Council considers regionalizing police dispatch

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Area police sheriff’s departments may soon join forces with nearby counties.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi and Austin Police Chief Brian Krueger spoke during a committee work session after Monday night’s City Council meeting about a report on regionalizing police dispatch. The report indicated that if 11 counties decided to combine their dispatch into three locations, the cost savings per county could be close to $1 million.

Amazi said that amount doesn’t take into account what additional resources Mower County would need. Unlike other counties, Mower’s dispatch workers also take administrative calls, write up warrants and perform other duties. If the county were to regionalize, new hires would be necessary to perform the various administrative and secretarial tasks no longer covered by dispatchers.

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Krueger said the county’s staff were already extremely efficient in what they did and the additional hires were likely to erase much of the cost savings of regionalizing. Equipment posed a part of the challenge, too, since police in the county do not use the 800 megahertz radios that would be required.

Among Krueger’s concerns was the danger of having officers dispatched to the wrong location, since they are less likely to be familiar with the entirety of the region than just one county.

He said he had heard of regionalized dispatch systems where dispatchers sent officers, for example, to “the Walmart” without specifying in which city it would be. Mower would also risk losing the dozen jobs currently held by its dispatchers.

Mower would likely be grouped with Fillmore and Freeborn counties, Krueger said. The council is awaiting updated information, since the original report had faulty statistics in some places, according to Amazi and Krueger. Once the new data is in hand, the council will have to decide how to work alongside the Mower County Board to decide the county and city’s collective approach.

The report was funded by grant money specifically given for this purpose.

Authorized liquor and pull-tab sales

In two separate resolutions during the meeting, the council also decided to approve pull-tab gambling at El Parral Ballroom and liquor sales at the Mower County Senior Center.

Gambling at El Parral will benefit the Mower Council for the Handicapped.

The pull-tab gambling — which is not the electronic form that the recently-passed Vikings stadium bill will use to cover the state’s share of the stadium costs — helps the organization provide services to disabled individuals at no charge.

“We advocate for individuals with physical disabilities,” said Gary Jacobson, CEO of Mower Council for the Handicapped. “We also purchase medical equipment, wheelchairs and those types of things.”

Liquor sales at the Senior Center will open the location to having a bar or champagne present during events.

“We’re one of the few meeting places in the community that holds 300 guests,” said Sara Schafer, executive director of the Senior Center. Money that comes in through liquor sales would go toward the Senior Center’s operation, helping it to become more self-sufficient.

City puts money behind Vision projects

The city of Austin took its place among the drivers of Vision 2020 Monday when it decided to contribute to the cause.

The Austin City Council voted 6-1 to give $10,000 to the Development Corporation of Austin to help kick off Vision 2020 projects. Council member Marian Clennon voted against it, saying she disagreed with the use of the city’s contingency fund to pay for a project that was meant to be lead by the community.

Council member Brian McAlister said it would be hard for the city to stay out of the Vision 2020 effort.

“If you talk about most of these projects, they’ll require staff time,” he said.

Council member Jeff Austin agreed, adding that these projects would be good for the city.

“We are asking the city, the county, the DCA, Hormel Foods and several other entities to help fund these start-up costs,” wrote Geoff Baker in a letter to City Administrator Jim Hurm. Baker said the city’s contribution of $10,000 would help fund initial costs including professional services, printing, grant writing and fundraising.

He could not say whether the $10,000 was all Vision 2020 would ask for, or if the group would request more money later.

At the meeting and the work session afterward, the council also:

—Approved a bid to have Ulland Bros. Inc resurface the Riverside Arena parking lot.

—Approved a measure allowing the Planning and Zoning Department to contract to remove junk and illegally stored vehicles from three Austin properties: 713 Second Ave. NE, 1001 Fourth Ave. NE and 900-1000 14th St. NW.

—Made modifications to a new policy for travel expenses on city business that details which expenses will be covered and to what extent.

—Approved Austin firefighters’ request to participate in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Fill the Boot fundraiser.

—Authorized an auction of the home and garage at 1305 Third St. NE. The house is on city-owned property as a result of flood mitigation efforts and needs to be auctioned off and moved, so the city doesn’t have to pay for its demolition.

—Accepted Airport Improvement Program grants from the Federal Aviation Administration to fund three small projects at the airport.