Tuesday, December 10, 2019

North valley safety agencies ready to shift dispatch services

Better safety and a lot less money

By Mark Reaman

While no final decision needs to be made until March 2020, it appears the safety service agencies at the north end of the valley will likely be changing dispatch providers from Gunnison to Montrose.

Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily gave the Town Council a briefing on the situation at the December 2 council meeting and laid out a scenario in which the switch would significantly improve responder and citizen safety while saving each of the agencies a lot of money.

Reily said concerns about the Gunnison Regional Communications dispatch run by the city of Gunnison had been brought up for several years with little to no meaningful response. So the Marshal’s Office, the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department and the Crested Butte Fire Protection District all explored alternatives, settling on WestCO Emergency Communications of Montrose.

While the Marshal’s Office will pay Gunnison dispatch $71,000 in 2020, WestCO estimated the same service from them would be about $25,000 to $30,000. Reily told the council that on top of the cost savings, the current Gunnison-based dispatch system is outdated and not a technologically efficient operation. Reily said, “Now that the north valley agencies have a tangible plan for acquiring service elsewhere, the city of Gunnison has begun to address some of the concerns.”

Mt. Crested Butte police chief Nate Stepanek and Crested Butte Fire Protection District manager Sean Caffrey were also at the meeting and supported the move. Stepanek said that while WestCO could not absorb both the north and south ends of the valley right away, the entire shift could be accommodated over a couple of years.

Reily said some communications would be similar to the current situation, such as between north valley officers and the Colorado State Patrol, but overall there would be a significant increase in situational awareness among agencies.

Mayor Jim Schmidt said one downside would be the loss of local knowledge by local dispatchers. Reily said that wasn’t a new issue since many dispatchers located in Gunnison had little to no local knowledge of the north end of the valley. “We have experienced those issues with Gunnison,” said Reily. “They don’t know the north end of the valley and it is frustrating at times. The fix is improved GIS mapping, and WestCO has that technology.”

Schmidt said leaving the Gunnison dispatch system “high and dry” was also a downside.

“I have talked to Gunnison city manager Russ Forrest about it and having the north valley pull out would be a shock to them financially,” said Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald. “There has been some conflict with the parties using that dispatch over the years and this conversation has certainly gotten their attention. They are now considering some changes, especially in governance. But to update the needed technology could cost millions of dollars and the town would have to chip in part of that.”

“So for us we want to give them time,” said Reily. “We don’t want Gunnison to fail. They will probably have to scale down. Our three agencies are looking at a 2021 move. They could come over to WestCO in 2022 or 2023 if they choose after WestCO ramps up their personnel. Because of the technology challenges it probably makes sense for them to ultimately go somewhere else like WestCO for the service as well.”

Reily said a decision has to be made by March so WestCo can adequately budget for taking on the agencies. He said all three north end agencies would make the move together.

“It sounds like if we don’t do the switch over, we’re pretty dumb,” quipped Schmidt.

Council member Laura Mitchell noted that if no decision was needed until next March, the council could see if there was significant movement from the Gunnison dispatch to solve the issues and the council could give their blessing early in 2020.

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