Proposal to move local dispatch services out of county returns to the table as commissioners face 2021 budget cuts

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The first time the HT reported on an idea to get rid of dispatch services at the county level and instead contract with the call center in Craig (operated by the Colorado State Patrol) to provide 911 and dispatch services, was back in November 2019.

At that time, Emergency Manager Ty Gates spoke to a packed room in Rangely about changes coming to 911 dispatch services statewide. New technology has emerged that will expand digital capability for emergency services, but that new technology is expensive, especially for a small county with two 911 dispatch centers.

Gates listed five options for responding to the new technology requirements, one of those being to contract out all 911 and dispatch services to another agency, which would save money but result in the loss of 10 full-time employees and multiple services that are currently performed by dispatch personnel.

The idea of contracting dispatch services to another agency came up again at the end of July 2020, in a work session with the commissioners, who discussed the cost of dispatch services and how those costs are shared between the sheriff’s department, the fire department, and the Meeker Police Department. 

The county’s 2020 budget has $608,000 earmarked for the dispatch center. Of that, the vast majority goes to salaries and wages ($384,161) and employee benefits ($180,541) for six full-time employees. Rangely’s dispatch center and staffing are separate.

According to Commissioner Si Woodruff, who serves on the county’s 911 board, that amount could be cut substantially — to about $50,000 — by moving services to the Craig call center.

At the July work session, RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola and Emergency Manager Ty Gates said such a move would save money, but would further “tie the county to the state.”

As budget discussions for 2021 have been underway, and with the commissioners wrestling with ways to trim as much as $2 million from the 2021 budget due to losses in assessed value and cuts to federal mineral lease and severance tax funding, the idea of doing away with local dispatch at the county level has come to the table again.

Sheriff Anthony Mazzola posted the following on the RBC Sheriff’s Office Facebook page early Saturday:

“Sense of Community and Public Safety, what this 911 center does for us that cannot be measured”Yesterday (Aug 28)…

Posted by Rio Blanco County Sheriff's Office on Saturday, August 29, 2020

Response to that post, and others made by local residents, have generated an online petition opposing the idea, and a call for citizens to attend a meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 31 at 8 a.m. at the courthouse in Meeker. “Discussion of county restructuring due to budget constraints” is one of two items on the agenda.

Residents who are unable to attend the meeting in person due to work, school or COVID-related concerns, you can call 970-878-9432.

You can also call the commissioners (970-878-9431), or send an email to express your views on this proposal before the meeting.