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By BOB SHRALUKA
The idea to close down the dispatch center at the Decatur police station and allow all its calls to go through the communications center at the county jail makes so much sense you have to wonder why it wasn't thought of before.
In fact, it was. Long ago, actually. And in later years, too.
Mayor John Schultz has been thinking about it for some time. And now that he's pitched the idea and Sheriff Shane Rekeweg is accomodating, it's a freight train chugging toward its destination. With renovations due in the near future at the comm center, it's now a matter of when, not if, the dispatching will end at the city PD.
The idea was first proposed close to 30 years ago. The late Dick Mansfield, Decatur's police chief from 1976-1988, ran for sheriff in the early 1980s. One of the top priorities on his agenda was combining all dispatching at the county jail.
There was some opposition from both sides, city and county, and when Mansfield didn't win the election, the idea went on a back burner.
There was some talk about it again in the last few years, but the sheriff's department wasn't enamored with the idea so on the back burner it remained.
The amount of money to be saved is striking, especially in these days of tight budgets. Mayor Schultz sees a savings of perhaps more than $100,000, no small change for a city of Decatur's size
Police Chief Ken Ketzler says he budgets $130,000 each year for three full-time and three part-time dispatchers. The closing of the dispatch center will necessitate the hiring of a "secretary" — one of the three full-timers is likely to get the job — to handle many of the duties now performed by the dispatchers.
So that will take some of the budgeted $130,000. And the mayor says he would like to toss some money into the county pot to help pay for comm center renovation. At the bottom line, though, will be a savings of some $100,000 annually.
No disruption in service
The merging won't be for perhaps two, three months yet. When it does occur, it appears that the public won't see any major change in service.
If you go to the Third St. station now and ask to see an officer, if none are there at the time someone will be summoned. After the changeover, an officer may be on hand; if not, you will be able to speak to someone at the jail through an intercom to be set up at the PD. Or you can visit the jail in person.
According to current plans, after 4 or 5 p.m. the building will be essentially closed, although officers will be in and out.
"We won't be missing any calls," Ketzler said. "Instead of going through our station, the calls will go through the jail (comm center). We'll still be responding."
At the recent city council meeting, the chief made an important point: No 911 calls go through the city police now; all those come into the comm center; have for years.
As far as the city officers, "it will take some getting used to, sure," Ketzler said. "I'm sure some tweaking will need to be done. But it can be handled."
The concern here with the changeover to an elected North Adams School Board is that the board will wind up with too many one-issue candidates, those with axes to grind, so to speak.
After all, this is hardly the plum job on the planet. For a few bucks you get to have lots of meetings, lots of financial headaches, lots of tough decisions, and catch lots of you-know-what. The feeling has been that maybe only the people with the axes will run.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe we'll get more good, solid candidates like Ben Faurote and Stacey Bussel, the two seeking the last appointment by Decatur City Council. Faurote has shown solid credentials and after serving out an unfinished term now has four years to make his mark, having emerged from a 3-2 vote. Bussel, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to knock some of the proverbial socks off those doing the interviews.
Council members urged Bussel to become a candidate when the board begins to go the elected route this fall, and the same should be said for Juan Gutierrez, a formerly effective board member who lost out on a recent township appointment.
Hopefully, too, there are more like them out there ready to make a bid.
and someone who wants to speak to an officer will have to go to the jail. Some there will contact a city officer and have him/her come to the jail to meet with the person.
Now, if you want to speak with an officer you got to the police station, talk to the dispatcher and he/she contacts an officer to arrange a meeting with the person. So only the location will change when the two dispatch centers are combined.
`and in today's tight budgets, $10-0,000 can be enormopiusl;.
The plan to close down the dispatch center at the Decatur police station and have all calls handled through the communications center in the county jail could produce a savings of up to $100,000 for the city, Mayor John Schultz said at Tuesday night's city council meetjng.
Schultz had initially unveiled the plans at Monday's meeting of the county commissioners, where he found support.
Talking about the idea at the council meeting, Schultz said "the timing is right" since bids are being taken for a renovation of the comm center.
When the changeover would occur isn't definite at this time, due to the renovation plans, "but I'm shooting for July 1," he added.
The city currently has three full-time dispatchers in its budget for this year, but, tragically, one of them, Dean Ingmire, lost his life in a fire a few months back. Of the other two, one will take a new secretarial position for the local police department — performing many of the bookkeeping chores currently handled by dispatchers — and the other "hopefully will move over to the county (comm center), if she wants to," the mayor added.
Schultz praised the cooperation he's received from Sheriff Shane Rekeweg and suggested that some of the city's savings could be used to help pay for the renovation of the comm center.
And to those who say the city should pay the county to handle its calls, he pointed out that Berne, Monroe and Geneva do not make such payments, nor does anyone else in Adams County. "People seem to forget that residents of Decatur pay county taxes, too," he said
The plan calls for essentially closing the police station to the public at 4 or 5 p.m. each day. Someone calling to talk to an officer after that time would reach the comm center and the officer would be directed by a dispatcher. And a camera would be mounted in the city PD so officials at the jail could monitor the building in the evening hours.
It was noted, too, that all 911 calls already go to the county center.
Police Chief Ken Ketzler said his officers would still be performing their duties. "We will not be missing any calls (for assistance, problems, etc.)," he said. "We just won't have a person behind the counter (at the police station) after 4 or 5 o'clock."
The chief said that while "it will take a little tweaking, some getting used to," he sees no major problems with the change.