St. Croix County says no to consolidated 911
The St. Croix County Board voted earlier this month to drop out of talks with Pierce County to consolidate their 911 call answering systems.
Members of the St. Croix Public Protection Committee and Emergency Support Services Director Casey Swetlik told board members Pierce County representatives seem willing neither to spend more money on the study nor to embrace the change.
“The way it was presented to us is that we have to go through a series of gates and each one of these gates becomes more and expensive. It appears to me that we stumbled coming out of the first gate,” said Public Protection Committee Chairman Andy Brinkman. He added, “We were willing to put more money in this and Pierce County is not.”
In June 2013, the two county boards approved funding for a feasibility study to determine if there is a business case for consolidating the two 911 centers. The study concluded it is feasible to merge and identified obstacles.
The initial report estimated the cost of merging at $1.58 million and suggested St. Croix pick up 62 percent of the cost and Pierce, 38 percent.
In April of this year, both county boards voted to go ahead with further study, spending up to $20,000, but that money was never spent.
“Being first in some things doesn’t mean it’s really a good thing,” said Public Protection Vice Chairman Scott Nelson. He said cost is one thing, but in this case “being efficient could be the difference between life and death.”
The sheriff and Swetlik don’t think the merger would help front-line dispatchers, said Nelson.
“They’re the ones we should listen to,” he said.
Swetlik referenced a joke: “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but that light bulb has to want to change.”
He said while technology is catching up with need, there is no “champion” for the merger in Pierce County and there was some resistance in St. Croix County as well.
He recalled officials who doubted a dispatcher sitting in Hudson could take calls for a fire in Ellsworth.
“From a technology standpoint, it can be done,” said Swetlik. He added, “But the will has to be there…and it’s not.”
Earlier this summer, he said, the fiber optic system serving Pierce and Dunn counties was severed and both dispatch centers went down. Since the counties back up one another, for almost 24 hours St. Croix took all the calls for Pierce and Dunn, and it worked well, said Swetlik.
“The backup systems worked,” he said. “We boosted staff, and it was flawless.”
Swetlik said, “We’ve come out of this with positives.” He said the counties are getting more systems in which they can partner.
Supervisor Agnes Ring, Houlton, was disappointed the counties couldn’t find a way to partner. She said she hopes to continue the dialog among neighboring emergency services.
“I think we should continue the search and continue the dialogue to find ways to partner…and get the best service and some economy of scale,” said Ring.
Supervisor Roy Sjoberg, Hudson, said he hopes the state will finance further study and implementation.
“Why do we need a resolution to stop exploring it?” asked Supervisor Ron Kiesler, New Richmond. “Why don’t we just not explore it anymore?”
He said the county should always be open to considering collaborations and partnerships.
Nelson said he believes if it’s not written down, there can misunderstandings.
“If they don’t want to dance with us, well then we’ll go on to the next dance,” said Nelson.
By adopting a resolution, supervisors are formally notifying the administration the board is no longer interested in continuing merger talks, agreed Supervisor Steve Nielsen, Town of Hudson.
The resolution was adopted on a 15-1 vote, with only Supervisor Judy Achterhof, Emerald, voting no.