Tel Com Board considering outside management for local dispatchers

Privatizing oversight is not about money, Bemrich says

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Loren Helgevold, a dispatcher, works from the Webster County Law Enforcement Center Thursday afternoon.

The Webster County Telecommunications Board is considering hiring an outside firm to handle the day-to-day operations of the 911 dispatch center at the Webster County Law Enforcement Center.

The board discussed that possibility during its meeting Thursday afternoon, but no action was taken.

The board consists of two rural mayors, two county representatives, and three city of Fort Dodge representatives.

About 20 people attended the meeting in the basement conference room of the Webster County Law Enforcement Center, 702 First Ave. S.

IXP, of Princeton, New Jersey, is one particular firm the board is considering.

“This is not a done deal,” said Fort Dodge Police Chief Roger Porter. “We are still at the discussion point.”

Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich said if IXP was hired they could provide training, protocol, and other procedures for dispatchers.

“The idea of going to talk to IXP wasn’t figuring out how to save a bunch of money,” Bemrich said. “It’s more about elevating all aspects of public safety, whether it be the city and the work we have done with the Fire Department. Our coordination with the hospital. Elevating our Police Department, our Sheriff’s Department, by implementing different softwares that allow us to intercommunicate. It’s just raising all bars. So it wasn’t let’s go find IXP to save a bunch of money. It was to give people the knowledge and expertise they need to perform at a high level.”

Bemrich said throughout the past decade there have been multiple improvements in public safety.

“Some things have worked really well, other things we have had to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “Dispatch probably should have been getting elevated as we were doing all of these other things, it just never happened. That’s probably somewhat because of the archaic nature of the structure. They are not city employees or county employees, so they didn’t get drug up with everything else. Just through the process of doing other things, it was identified that this is something we need to concentrate on. Whether that’s more money, more people, more resources — something to raise that bar.”

A woman who did not identify herself said the online reviews she has read on IXP have been “pretty poor.”

She expressed concern about local dispatchers being retained, the benefits they would receive, and their pay.

Dispatchers are paid through an emergency management levy, according to Bemrich. They are neither city or county employees.

That would not change if an outside firm was hired, Bemrich said.

The same woman asked if the change was being considered to save money.

Porter said there could be a savings of about $15,500 in a one-year contract.

He said the board would oversee IXP.

“IXP will answer to the board,” Porter said. “You will have the same board in place. They will be on a contract. If there is issues we don’t like, we will break that contract.”

He added, “They don’t bring people in from out of the state, they work with the agencies involved, whether it’s fire or volunteer fire, or sheriff or PD. It’s my understanding when Larry was here from IXP, they utilize people that are already in place or locals to fill that position. You’re still having locals.”

Another woman who said she was a dispatcher, but did not identify herself, said based on information she got from the IXP, dispatchers would lose multiple benefits and would no longer have IPERS.

“Some of our employees have been getting IPERs for 27 years, which would go completely to waste, even if she were to reapply,” the woman said. “To have 27 years of IPERs, there would be no point. There’s a lot of things us as dispatchers would lose. And there’s no guarantee of rehire to be clear.”

Chief Deputy Rod Strait said the head dispatcher receives health insurance.

“The head of dispatch has insurance at this point,” he said. “It is not a blanket policy for everyone. They have a $500 stipend, which they can go out and purchase their own insurance.”

Strait added, “We tried to go through with the insurance once before and it didn’t go through. We looked at going with the city or county for insurance for employees and in order to make sure employees had some insurance, that’s when the $500 stipend came on at that point. That wasn’t meant to keep going on. That was meant to hold them over so that they can have insurance until we get something straightened out and insurance can be provided. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the city or county to continue the $500 stipend.”

Porter indicated that a change in management could be a benefit.

“Right now you have us and the Sheriff’s Department that are spending quite a bit of time in there dealing with any issues that come up,” he said.

Sheriff Jim Stubbs said dispatchers are valuable members of the team.

“Dispatch is the conduit from the public to us and to the fire department and to the ambulances,” he said. “If it wasn’t for dispatch, how would we know? You have to understand no one is going to belittle dispatch.”

Stubbs said a firm like IXP could come in and provide training. He said one of their selling points is they will have a pool of 400 potential employees.

“The biggest thing to me is which is going to make the people of Webster County safer,” Stubbs said. “What’s going to make my deputies safer? What’s going to make our response time better? I am sure Roger is looking at it the exact same way.”

Stubbs said he needed more information to form an opinion.

“This may not be the answer,” he said. “It very well could not be. But if you are going to be in charge of something, you have to look at all the aspects.”

He added, “It’s a long way from signing a contract.”