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Martens responds to Grussing letter

By Staff | Dec 13, 2013

Letter to the Editor:

I am responding to the recent letter submitted to the Estherville News in regard to the dispatching issue between Emmet County and the City of Armstrong.

Months ago I was approached about renegotiating the dispatch fees that the City of Armstrong pays Emmet County for its law enforcement dispatching. Two members of board of supervisors Jon Martyr and Tim Schumacher also participated in this process. The three of us met with Armstrong Mayor Dailey, Councilmen Leach, Grussing and Police Chief Merrill and discussed the issue. During those talks we were informed that they felt they should not have to pay the 5% of the dispatchers monthly salary. This agreement to do so had been in place since 1983 with the City of Estherville also paying 35% of the dispatcher salary and Emmet County paying 60% which equals the total of 100% The five percent in this case amounts to approximately $10,000 per year. Armstrong reasoned that because they now only have one police officer instead of two and he hardly uses the radio that they shouldn’t have to pay this rate. Additionally it was felt that since the City of Armstrong pays Emmet County $1000.00 a month to take calls for service (essentially provide their law enforcement ) three days a week when their officer is off that they should not be charged for dispatching then either.

Bear in mind however there is much more to law enforcement dispatching than radio usage, but this seems to be their issue. I was asked if there was a way to check on the amount they are using the radio and I said I could do that. It was decided that when I had something to report back I would contact them and we would have another meeting.

As Emmet County Sheriff I have to prioritize daily what matters need immediate attention all the while managing the many other daily activities taking place. I also felt from the beginning that nothing should change as to how dispatching services were being delivered to the Armstrong Police Department during this time even though they had stopped payment of their monthly fees.

During the inquiry into this matter I checked the volume of radio transmissions logged by the Emmet County Communications Center. What I found was that in 2012 there were 400 logged uses of the radio by the Armstrong Police Department. I felt it prudent to check also the year before and what I found was in 2011 there were 1,419 logged uses of the radio system. This is a huge difference. Why is this happening? Has there been a drop in criminal activity in Armstrong that would explain a 355% difference? What I have been told is that the police officer has been calling in on his cellphone to conduct business rather than the using the radio system. Cellphone calls wouldn’t necessarily be logged because they are not radio broadcasts which we have to log.

I located in our records the contracts that have been followed for the past 30 years that cite the City of Armstrong’s share of dispatch payments are 5% of the dispatchers monthly salary. I also located a copy of the board of supervisors minutes from June 15, 1983 where the board heard from Estherville Police Chief Bob Knox, Emmet County Sheriff Dan Gronbeck, Estherville City Administrator Steve Woodley and Armstrong Mayor LeRoy Opsal who were ALL IN FAVOR of county oriented dispatching and finally a copy of the minutes of the July 20, 1983 meeting where the board of supervisors moved, seconded and passed a motion for Emmet County to pay 60% of dispatch fees, the City of Estherville to pay 35% and the City of Armstrong to pay 5% subject to the approval of Estherville and Armstrong.

This is the agreement that has essentially been followed since.

But how did our predecessors arrive at the percentages for Estherville and Armstrong? Nothing I found told me anything about that.

What I came up with was that it had to be based upon population of each community in proportion to Emmet County. When you divide the population of each community by the population of Emmet County that figure is the percent of Emmet County that each community represents. If you divide that by the percentage that each community pays for the dispatchers monthly salary the numbers are nearly identical and actually appear to favor the City of Armstrong slightly. How much more fair can that be?

For the record I attended the Iowa Sheriff’s and Deputies training this week in Des Moines and spoke to some other County Sheriffs about this and of those, they were either paying a city for dispatch services or cities in the county were paying the county for dispatch services with only a couple I talked to having the county assume all the expense. The point is we are not the only county that does this.

By the way, the remarks that Armstrong did not hear anything from me in regard to this before I served the letter to the city is just not true. A couple of weeks before I gave them the letter Councilman Grussing stopped at my office and spoke to me about some unrelated matters. While he was there I confirmed he was still with the Armstrong City Council until the end of the year. I told him we needed to get together and “put this matter to bed”. Grussing told me that there would be others with knowledge of the subject available and I made it clear this needed to be done. I just didn’t think it would be fair to dump this on a new council or mayor when this one started the process. On November 13th at 5:30 pm I contacted Armstrong Police Chief Merrill and requested a meeting with him, Mayor Dailey, Councilmen Leach and Grussing for Monday 11-18-2013 at 4pm in regard to this matter. At 5:38pm I got a return call and was told that since there was a 5pm council meeting 4pm wouldn’t work. I thought this is even better because I could explain my findings to those at the meeting and they could share the information with the council. I told Merrill we would just move it up to 3:00pm. On November 15th I got a text message from Merrill wanting to know if we could postpone this meeting until after the 1st of the year when the new mayor and council would be in place. I advised him we could not and that the supervisors and I were planning on Monday. He told me he could not guarantee they would come with only a few days notice. On Monday November 18th just before noon Chief Merrill had tried to call me a couple times so at 12:14pm I called him back and he told me that nobody would be attending the meeting. He cited that Dailey and Leach had conflicts and Grussing wasn’t coming since the others weren’t. So much for explaining my findings in person! The following morning I advised the board of supervisors that I had prepared a letter explaining my findings and requiring the payment of the back fees or LAW ENFORCEMENT DISPATCH SERVICES would be discontinued in 30 days. I also wrote in the letter that I also had looked into the concept of a full law enforcement contract agreement between the City of Armstrong and Emmet County and that my initial findings indicate a substantial savings could be available to the City of Armstrong.

In summary I think the 5% that the City of Armstrong pays for dispatching services is fair and is proportional to the rate that the City of Estherville pays for dispatching services. The rates that were developed 30 years ago prove that and they still show that today. Dispatching services allow access to many kinds of information and services not to mention the many different tasks the dispatch operator can perform for an officer in the field. However an agency can choose to utilize or not utilize those services if they wish, I guess that is up to them but the cost still remains the same to have those services available. Something else to think about is that the fees that are paid to Emmet County in this case are used in the budgeting process. If they are not received they would have to be replaced by tax dollars and I do not think it is fair or reasonable that this expense should be passed onto the rest of the taxpayers of Emmet County so that Armstrong does not have to pay their share for law enforcement dispatching services. The bottom line is, if you are going to expect to receive something you have to expect to have to pay for it.

I hope this has helped to clarify the issue.

Respectfully yours,

Mike Martens

Emmet County Sheriff