This photo of the dispatch center at the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department shows the workstations that the department would like to replace. The sheriff’s department and the city of Rhinelander are currently involved in negotiations over the dispatch center renovation project and related agreements.
8/15/2019 7:30:00 AM City, sheriff's department discussing dispatch issues County wants all agreements in writing
By Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer Of the Northwoods River News
The Oneida County Sheriff's Department is remodeling its 9-1-1 dispatch center and is looking to the city of Rhinelander for a contribution to the project. In addition, the county is seeking to put existing agreements between the police and sheriff's departments in writing.
The negotiations between the two came to light during the Aug. 5 Common Council meeting when council president George Kirby asked that the group be informed about talks mayor Chris Frederickson and city administrator Daniel Guild have had with the county related to the dispatch center.
According to chief deputy Dan Hess, the dispatch center, which houses the 9-1-1 operators, was last updated 13 years ago with financial assistance from the city. (The county provides dispatch services to the city.)
"There's five stations in dispatch, and we're asking them (the city) to update the furniture in one of the stations," Hess explained. "We're updating the entire dispatch center, and when we updated it in 2006, the city gave us, I believe, $150,000 at that point, plus we took over the dispatch."
According to Hess, the estimated cost to the city to update one dispatch station is between $15,000 and $16,000.
Hess said the department would also like a signed agreement committing the Rhinelander Police Department to providing one officer to the North Central Drug Enforcement Group (NORDEG) which is coordinated by the sheriff's department.
"Years ago, I think it was in the early 2000s, Rhinelander chief Jim Sebestyen and sheriff Tim Miller did a handshake agreement where we would take night shift dispatch and they would supply a drug unit officer to investigate drug crimes in our drug unit here," Hess said. "That was a verbal agreement, and they pull us back and forth all the time, and we feel that should be in writing due to the continued drug problem we're seeing throughout the community."
The last point of negotiation involves returning the two paramedics that the city provided to the Special Response Team (SRT) for a time but later withdrew.
"We used to have two city paramedics on our SRT. As you see throughout the United States, paramedics are embedded in special response teams and it provides safety and security of the officers and anyone who may require medical assistance (during an operation). They're right with our SRT members and it lessens the response time and everything else," Hess said. "We had that up until last year when it was pulled away, and we want that as part of the agreement, as well."
Hess noted the original agreement between the departments did not contain a provision for the paramedics.
Hess said the sheriff's department is hopeful the two sides will reach agreements on all three issues.
"We've met a couple times so far, and the meetings went pretty well," Hess said. "We want the agreement in writing because it's very important for the taxpayers and the residents of both the city and the county to work together. We try to save money where we can and we think this is an important place for the taxpayers to have that savings to do the dispatching."
Hess was asked what would happen if there is no new signed agreement between the department and the city by Dec. 31.
"The city would have to figure out how to dispatch for the city," Hess responded. "I hope that is not the case. I hope that we can work together and come up with an agreement. That would be the best thing for us as a community."
At the Aug. 5 council meeting, Kirby said it was his understanding that Guild and Frederickson had met recently with Hartman and other county representatives and they delivered a letter to the sheriff at that time. He argued the council should have been informed of the nature of the negotiations, especially since there is the chance that if talks break down the city might have to start dispatching police and firefighters itself.
"I think this is quite disturbing, and I really think the council should have been informed about this sooner," Kirby said. "We're going to be in a real world of hurt come the first of the year... If this gets dumped in our lap on the first of the year, what are we going to do?"
Guild explained that the sheriff's department made three requests during their meeting.
As Hess said, the county wants the city to contribute approximately $15,000 toward the cost of the new dispatch center workstation, commit to continued participation with the drug task force and modify the current agreement concerning paramedic participation with the SRT.
"We really value each of those," Guild said, adding that both sides agreed to continue to hold meetings to work to iron out their differences.
Kirby noted that the discussions hadn't been "extended to the council yet."
"Well, we don't know what to extend to the council yet because we don't know what the proposal is," Guild replied. "They've sent us a bunch of stuff, we sent some stuff back. There is a lot of questions about things, there was some misunderstandings or disagreements."
He then asked the fire chief, Terry Williams, to weigh in on the issue of city paramedic involvement with the SRT.
"One of the things that came up in regard to the SRT was the liability of medics performing care (while) not under Rhinelander Fire Department command," Williams explained. "They would be, at that point, under SRT command. So it was questions asked back and forth and I took away from the meeting that it was going to be a research project, although a quick research project, as to what some of the other departments and SRTs around the state do."
"I took a good vibe away from the meeting when we left," Williams added.
Frederickson interjected that the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the sheriff's department was brought up during his first month in office in 2018.
"And we reached out to Grady to discuss it, because there was something from our portion, our part that we wanted to discuss," Frederickson said. "They didn't reach out back to us until January of this year."
At one of their joint meetings the city brought six representatives and the county had eight, he noted.
If any alderperson has a question about what he and Guild are doing on a particular topic, they can simply ask them either in person or by email, he added.
Alderperson Dawn Rog then asked for an explanation as to why Frederickson did not include information about these meetings in his mayor's report.
"Once again, how do you report on something that is in movement?" the mayor replied.
Rog reiterated that the council should have been informed that meetings were being held on something as important as the dispatch center.
Without further comment, Frederickson moved on to the next item on the agenda.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce