Residents speak up on behalf of local dispatch as county proposes moving services

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Another special meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 1:15 p.m. Commissioners will vote on combining several county departments before continuing the 2021 budget process.

It was standing room only at the courthouse Monday. Dispatchers took the opportunity to share audio from recent 911 calls to express the importance of keeping dispatch local.

RBC | Rio Blanco County residents concerned about keeping dispatch services local filled the commissioners’ meeting room to overflowing Monday.

Sheriff Anthony Mazzola put out a statement on social media this weekend stating he was told late Friday by Commissioner Gary Moyer that the board had decided to move the county’s local dispatch services to the Craig call center as of Jan. 1, 2021, in an attempt to make up for an anticipated $2.2 million in budget cuts for 2021. Mazzola said he was told to have his employees attend the meeting.

The call for the special meeting, which went out late Friday, lists “Discussion of County restructuring due to budget constraints,” on the agenda, along with an executive session to discuss personnel matters. 

Specific departments to be restructured were not listed in the agenda released Friday, or in the agenda released for the meeting planned for Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 1:15 p.m. where the board will vote on “combining or eliminating departments or positions.” Those departments, according to information presented Monday, affect economic development, natural resources, emergency management, planning, GIS, IT, communications, and sales and use tax. 

The lack of specificity may be in violation of provisions set forth in the Colorado Open Meetings Law, according to Jeff Roberts, Executive Director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “I would argue that if it was ‘possible’ for the agenda to be more specific about which departments might be consolidated, it should have been. That would have given the public more information about what to expect at the meeting,” Roberts stated via email.

Colorado Revised Statutes for the Colorado Open Meetings Law states, “The statutory provision requiring the notice to include “specific agenda information where possible,” § 24-6-402(2)(c), simply requires the public body to include specific agenda information in its posting when it is “possible” to do so-that is, when that information is available at the time of posting.   The statute provides, “The posting shall include specific agenda information where possible.” § 24-6-402(2)(c) (emphasis added).   Thus, if at the time of “posting,” it is “possible” to include specific agenda information, the notice “shall” include that information.”

Commissioner Jeff Rector stated, “I wanted to let everybody know there has been some miscommunication.” He said they are in discussion with Colorado State Patrol about the possibility of contracting for dispatch services, but no decision has been made. He later urged constituents to listen to a work session from Friday, Aug. 28, for clarification. No recording of the work session is available to the public, as the board does not record work sessions.

Budget and Finance Director Janae Stanworth then presented an overview of the anticipated 2021 budget deficit via PowerPoint (see below), and the options discussed during work sessions last week.

2021-Budget-Discussion-8_31_20

At the direction of Commissioner Rector, county attorney Todd Starr asked the public to limit their comments to two minutes each (the agenda states three minutes per person or five minutes per group.)

“Where is the priority for public safety?” Sheriff Mazzola asked the board. His comments were met with applause. 

The public comment portion of the meeting was punctuated by rounds of applause from attendees and Starr’s two-minute phone timer. Before commenters were cut short, they shared personal stories about their experience with dispatch, and expressed a strong desire to see that services remain local.

Former Colorado State Patrolman Rob Baughman said the Craig call center dispatches for CSP from the Eisenhower Tunnel to the Utah border. 

Town of Meeker Trustee Wendy Gutierrez urged the current board, “Do not leave in your wake a crippled dispatch,” and mentioned the taxpayer money already spent on the communications center at the justice center. 

Communications Director Mike Cook said he was “humbled” by the show of support from the community, and said there are other options for increasing revenue for dispatch, including raising the 911 surcharge on telephone service. 

Dispatcher Rhawnie McGruder shared audio clips from local 911 calls in which local area knowledge was critical to getting responders to the right place.

A potential sales tax ballot measure was floated by resident Mona Avey. This will be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioners were urged to “think about the essential” and a potential recall effort was mentioned several times.

Detentions Center Lt. Mike Reist explained the value of having dispatch available to cover the control room for the jail when two deputies are needed at the same time, and closed his comments by saying,  “I didn’t think it would be you guys who wanted to defund the police.” 

“I will fight to keep public safety a priority. This is not personal. The personal vendetta that you have against me will do nothing to me, it’s going to hurt the people of Rio Blanco County,” Mazzola stated after public comment.

Just prior to a five-minute break before continuing with the regularly scheduled meeting, commissioner Si Woodruff asked concerned citizens to come and listen to CSP’s presentation on September 22.

Coverage of tomorrow’s meeting and more will be available in this week’s HT.

A previous version of this story did not attribute the two minute public comment time change to Rector. Commissioner Rector made the change at the beginning of the meeting.

A previous version of this story stated no public discussion of moving dispatch occurred in a public forum after a brief work session in July. The HT has received work session recordings through a CORA request and will report on that information with regard to dispatch and other budget decisions.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Proposal to move local dispatch services out of county returns to the table as commissioners face 2021 budget cuts | Rio Blanco Herald Times | Serving Meeker, Rangely, Dinosaur & Northwest Colorado
  2. No deal on 1% sales tax increase to fund local dispatch | Rio Blanco Herald Times | Serving Meeker, Rangely, Dinosaur & Northwest Colorado
  3. Rio Blanco County 2021 budget discussion recap | Rio Blanco Herald Times | Serving Meeker, Rangely, Dinosaur & Northwest Colorado

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