Montrose County Regional Dispatch Center will fold into the Western Colorado Dispatch Center as a standalone entity early Nov. 1, if the latter’s board approves the proposed action.
“We had reached a point where we had seven dispatchers,” Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap said Friday, shortly after Commissioners Sue Hansen and Keith Caddy signed a memorandum of understanding allowing for the merger. WestCO’s board must also sign the memo and is meeting Monday to discuss it.
“One (dispatcher) was hired by WestCO from that seven. It became apparent to me at that point that something had to be done,” said Dunlap, under whose auspices Montrose Regional Dispatch operates.
“If we had lost one of those, we were going to be in a bind that we couldn’t provide services 24/7.”
The tentative agreement to merge with WestCO serves as a more immediate response to the situation. Parties put it together in a “whirlwind” of activity over the past two weeks.
More involved logistical issues, such as leases, equipment and technology, are being hammered out with an eye to resolution by the first of the year.
Considerations include staffing, technical, contractual and legal issues, but the immediate concern was keeping dispatch services up and running for all users.
“We had such a short timeframe to the sheriff’s request and on a condensed timeframe, we had to take a very critical look at asking that question,” Mandy Stollsteimer, director of WestCo, said. It was not possible to develop a long-term contract and facility lease agreements by November.
“So we came up with the idea of putting in place an emergency MOU between WestCO and the county. The condensed timeframe is obviously precipitated by the need to provide public safety emergency communications to everyone that WestCo serves and everyone that MCSO serves,” Stollsteimer said.
Legal counsel for WestCO and the county worked up the emergency MOU, which provides six months to nail down the long-term details.
“But everyone is working in good faith and collaboratively to actually have that done by Jan. 1. Both sides feel like that is a doable goal,” Stollsteimer said.
The collaboration is a change from the circumstances that led to WestCO opening in 2016.
For years, the Montrose Regional Dispatch Center was the only emergency dispatch in the county, except for the Colorado State Patrol’s internal dispatch center in Montrose. The MRDC dispatched for dozens of agencies in the region.
In 2014, rising costs and increasing call volume prompted a proposed fee increase that some of the then-participating entities found objectionable.
After months of disputes and discussion of both costs and the amount of say agencies had in the operation of dispatch throughout 2015, WestCO was formed. The City of Montrose fronted some of the money to set up the new dispatch center, which initially brought six agencies into its fold.
Next month, pending WestCO board approval, dispatch services will again come under one roof, at the present MRDC location next door to the sheriff’s office.
As a consolidated dispatch, WestCO is to remain a standalone, legal, separate entity that is not part of the city or the county. Its funding comes from user fees, as well as contributions from such entities as the Montrose and San Miguel emergency telephone service authorities.
“(It’s) going to take a lot of legwork and small, different things to happen to get this done,” Caddy said.
“It needed to come back as one anyway,” Dunlap said. “Why prolong the inevitable?”
All agencies for which the MCRD dispatches have been informed of the pending consolidation, he said: “It will be business as usual.”
Technological glitches may arise, but information and technology staff will be on hand for those, he added.
Consolidation will end the current practice of each dispatch having to transfer calls meant for an agency for which it does not dispatch. That will increase response times and efficiency.
“I think going forward, it needed to be one dispatch center, regardless of where it was at,” Dunlap said.
His concern is for MCRD employees, but WestCO has been accepting applications from them, he said.
“The separation, it’s too bad it happened in the beginning,” Hansen said. “This (consolidation) is what needed to happen for our community, the region.”
Regional public safety is paramount, the officials said.
“WestCO serves more than Montrose County. As well, the sheriff’s office currently provides services to people and citizens outside the county,” said Stollsteimer.
“It’s actually a regional public safety issue and concern that all of us are working to ensure there’s no lapse in service or problems with that.”
Once the MOU is finalized, WestCO dispatch will begin moving into the county dispatch building. There is not room in WestCO’s current location for consolidated dispatching services.
WestCO equipment initially purchased by the city is now on the entity’s assets list.
“We have not addressed what is going to happen with those assets at this point, because the condensed timeline has forced us to prioritize things and those priorities first start with operations and the continuity of operations, followed by IT and making sure the infrastructure’s there, the routing and the communication,” Stollsteimer said.
“What we’re going to do with the assets, what we’re going to do with the space WestCO currently resides in, any future contracts and leases with the county, all of that’s going to be in those discussions and the legal teams working together as soon as the MOU is formally in place. There’s no desire to drag that out in any way.”
The focus is now Nov. 1; thereafter, long-term planning will take place.
“What’s underscoring that is there’s a trust level between all concerned, and so we’re comfortable with not having every T crossed and I dotted as we move forward. It’s what needs to happen,” said.
“We do trust each other to get this done. … Safety is part of our business,” Caddy said.
“We were in really an emergency situation,” Dunlap reiterated.
“My goal was to get something in place for the short term and worry about the long term later. That doesn’t have to happen overnight. Again, if we had lost one more dispatcher, we would definitely be in a bind.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.