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County, city leaders argue over dispatch center

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The debate about whether to build a new public safety complex includes a disagreement between Chaves County commissioners and some city officials about the location of the regional emergency dispatch center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Both entities want main communications center in their facilities

Chaves County commissioners and Mayor Dennis Kintigh are battling over the region’s emergency communications dispatch center.

At the same time, both sides also are saying that there should be more cooperation among the two government bodies.

Kintigh wants the Pecos Valley Regional Communications Center to be part of a proposed $35 million public safety complex that would be funded by general obligation bonds and repaid with an increase in property taxes.

City residents are due to cast their ballots on the bond issue starting with early voting Tuesday and ending March 3, municipal elections voting day.

Commissioner Robert Corn said the county is committed to keeping the communications center at its current location in the Chaves County Administrative Center at 1 St. Mary’s Place.

“We’ve been housing the Pecos Valley Regional Communications Center for a long time,” he said. “It is one of the few things that the city and the county have been able to work on together.”

The center has operated as a joint city-county operation since 2006. Managed under a joint agreement, the regional communications center handles emergency calls for the Roswell Police Department, area ambulances, the Roswell Fire Department, the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and county volunteer fire departments, as well as security calls for the city and county animal control units and city and county courts.

On Thursday, Corn spoke out publicly against the presentations Kintigh has been making to advocate for the public safety complex and the bond issue, particularly as it relates to the communications center.

Corn and Kintigh exchanged some sharp words at a Roswell Rotary meeting, a conversation Corn described as “very confrontational.” Kintigh said his background in law enforcement gives him a different perspective and characterized the interaction as a “nothing burger.”

But the encounter led Corn and Will Cavin, chair of the Board of Commissioners, to issue a fact sheet “to correct the misunderstandings and misinformation” about the dispatch center.

“We are just not happy with the mayor not telling the whole truth,” Corn said. “The mayor made the point that the personnel and the equipment belong to the city, and that is where he stopped. … What he is not telling people is that we are paying 40% of the operation and personnel costs.”

Corn explained that the joint agreement requires one of the entities to “own” the staffing and the equipment, so the city does. But Corn said the county provides annual operational funds as well as free facility space, janitorial services and utilities.

The county fact sheet also indicated that the county paid for 100% of the dispatch antenna, and Corn added that the county has paid for some of the data lines and for the emergency communication towers outside the city limits.

According to information from the county, the county’s operational support for the communications center was $587,576 during fiscal year 2019, which ended June 30. That includes part of the salaries for the employees, which now number 21.

For the current fiscal year, 2020, the county has budgeted $600,000, and, according to County Manager Stanton Riggs, might end up spending more than that.

Another point Corn makes is that the county has announced at several public meetings, including one with area legislators in November, that they are planning a $350,000 upgrade of the communication center’s space by renovating an area of the Chaves County Administrative Center known as Area D. Part of the renovated area also will have permanent space for the Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Management operations, Corn said.

City leadership is well aware of the plans, both Corn and Kintigh acknowledge, because the topic has been discussed at the regular meetings of city and county officials.

Robert Corn says the county will move forward with its expansion plan no matter what Roswell voters decide about the public safety complex.

“We have plans and we are going to proceed,” he said. “Assuming that this passes, before they even sell the bonds, we are going to have them (dispatch staff) moved.”

Corn said he has problems with the complex for a “whole list of reasons,” including that he thinks that a request for funding without purchased land and concrete facility plans amounts to “a $35 million blank check to the city of Roswell.”

But he said he particularly objects to the way the discussions have gone regarding the dispatch center.

For his part, Kintigh said he has no problem acknowledging county funding for the regional communications center.

“The point that I have made, and I don’t think anyone has ever contradicted me, is that dispatch personnel are city employees. They work for the city of Roswell. And the city of Roswell IT (integrated technology) staff is responsible for maintaining that equipment, the computers and the radios. That is the point I have made because a lot of people mistakenly believe that they are county employees. Is it county supported? I have never disputed that. The point is, they are Roswell personnel, city personnel.”

Kintigh said that what many don’t understand is that the public safety complex concept isn’t his alone, that it originated from discussions among city staff about needs for the city.

He said one of the reasons for wanting dispatch located in a consolidated facility is that 70% of the service calls through the communications center involve calls within the city limits. He also said an “effectiveness and efficiency” issue arises to have city IT employees working at the county facility when their offices and other work sites are elsewhere.

On many other points, Corn and Kintigh also disagree. While Kintigh said a consolidated center makes sense for effective operations, Corn said he doesn’t think that is the case.

“In my meetings across the country since 9/11, the rest of the world has been generally moving toward decentralization of those facilities, OK, because it makes them less prone to be shut down,” Corn said.

Corn says the Sheriff’s Office wants the dispatch center near them. Kintigh said the current dispatch area could serve as a back-up, which he said would be helpful to the city’s fire department ratings.

Corn argues that the city will have to build a much larger tower within the city limits just to have the same communications capabilities the county tower has, but Kintigh said that isn’t the case because fiber optics can be run from the tower if needed.

They both also said that they think the other entity should be more interested in collaborating than competing.

About the county’s plan to renovate and move into Area D no matter what happens on the bond issue, Kintigh said, “That is kind of an odd thing to say because, don’t we need to be working together? That is a little disturbing to me that there is no willingness to sit down with city staff. It would seem to me that the objective would be to find out how we can optimize the quality of service. That involves working together rather than unilaterally. That is what I would like to see here.”

Corn said words to the same effect.

“Once again, a lot of people around town think the city and county should work jointly on some stuff, and here is something we are working together on and the city is taking … a hard turn that is contrary to working with the county,” he said.

They said that other issues that need county-city cooperation include Extraterritorial Zoning codes and the way in which Roswell Fire Department responses are handled.

Both men said that county-city discussions will continue, with Kintigh expressing the view that the talks should involve senior staff at both entities. They said they think that some compromises or agreements could be made in the months ahead.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.