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Armstrong dispatching issue resurfaces at supervisors

By Staff | Sep 7, 2016

As of Aug. 31, the City of Armstrong has had no dispatch service. Armstrong Police Chief Craig Merrill and Fire Chief Greg Buum attended Tuesday’s Emmet County Board of Supervisors Meeting.

Sheriff Mike Martens said, “The situation needs to be settled. The City of Estherville dispatch service is being used, but not paid for by the Armstrong Police Department.”

Martens had sent the Armstrong City Council a proposal, which would require the City of Armstrong to pay the arrearage of five percent of the full time dispatcher’s salary from the last several years, in two equal pieces, “to make it more palatable,”?Martens said. “Then if they keep up with the monthly fee amounts, it’s settled.”

The Estherville Police Department has used the law enforcement location app for calls they back up for Armstrong.

“This is paid for by the City of Estherville and based on the number of messages,”?Martens said. “I also am aware the Armstrong Police Department has obtained information from dispatch from Estherville. I?thought it was improper,”?Martens said.

County Attorney Doug Hansen weighed in, saying, “To run a police department in general, you need personnel, training, uniforms, firearms and vehicles. Dispatch is another requirement.”

Hansen said from 1983, Armstrong had paid a portion of the expense of dispatch through the county office.

“Now Armstrong wants the county to provide the service for free,” said Hansen.?

Buum said, “We stopped paying because we dropped radio traffic to practically nothing.”?He added that one issue is that the price of Armstrong’s part of the cost of service was inflated.

Merrill said, “We’re down to one officer. At that time, we had some coverage from the sheriff’s office three days per week. Our time using dispatch is down at least by half.”

Supervisor John Pluth said, “Whether you use it or not, it has to be available 24 hours, seven days a week, and able to dispatch law enforcement to the scene of problems.”?

Supervisor Jeff Quastad said,?”To me, it’s all about the human factor. If it’s a fire, a computer can do that. For a police call, you need a person relaying more detailed information to get the people help as soon as possible.”?

Quastad added, “The percentage formula is still the fair way.”

Merril said, “It’s an on-call situation. There is a lot of time it’s not used at all.”?

Supervisor Tim Schumacher said, “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need police dispatch at all, Craig. You have kids, I have kids. Wouldn’t you be kicking yourself if something happened to them and you couldn’t get them the help they needed??I?would. If we want to make our communities as safe as they can be, dispatch is a big part of that.”

On the proposal from Martens, Buum said, “We didn’t have the opportunity to make another proposal. [Martens] told me it was either this deal or nothing. So if we resolve the dispatch issue, then what?”

Supervisor Bev Juhl asked Merrill, “Why do you think it is okay to use Estherville’s services for nothing, when it’s the citizens of Estherville who are paying for it?”?

Merrill said, “We need the information from somewhere. I don’t control that.”?

Martens said, “I?like the idea of keeping your police department in Armstrong. I?think it’s great to have your own police department. But you need to have everything we offer to meet the needs of your town.”?

Hansen said, “Craig, you do need the services. You were getting these services through clandestine means and it’s not appropriate. Bring up the situation with the city council. You acquired the service through somewhat clandestine means.”?

Merrill said, “I?guess if that’s your opinion.”

Hansen said, “If it’s not resolved, it could turn into some kind of legal action.”

Merrill asked, “What kind of legal action?”

Hansen said, “If it comes to that, you would find out.”?

The next Armstrong City Council meeting is Sept. 12. Buum said the council would receive the letter and proposal from Martens in their packets Thursday.

Merrill and Buum said they had not seen the letter or proposal Martens sent to the city council.

Schumacher said, “This is an important issue for the City of Armstrong.”?

Schumacher asked for an answer from Armstrong by the Sept. 20 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

In other business, the Board of Supervisors approved the manure management plan for East Swan Lake Swine Care, approved two utility permits presented by County Engineer Walter Davis-Oeth, one for Section 11 of Ellsworth Township and one for Section 2 of 12 Mile Lake Township.

Davis-Oeth also announced the hiring of Tanner Weringa as equipment operator. “He should be a very good employee for the county,”?adding that snow removal calls were 30 minutes, and Weringa currently lives near the Minnesota border. The supervisors also approved a lease renewal with Rudy Abel for a three-year lease on the building that currently houses the Emmet County Department of Human Services.

The supervisors also heard from Iowa Department of Human Services business manager Matt Madsen for the 30-county area of western Iowa.