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Rockingham County dispatch fee divides big, small towns

Union Leader Correspondent

June 11. 2013 9:44PM

Rockingham County commissioners are considering charging towns that use the county’s dispatch center $1 per resident for police dispatching and 50 cents per resident for fire calls to pay for a $950,000 upgrade and maintenance at the center.

“I think the whole thing is really outrageous,” Epping Selectman Jim McGeough told board members Monday night. “There is no way that three commissioners have a right to say to Epping, ‘Here’s a $10,000 tax.’”

Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing met with police and fire chiefs last week to outline the payment plan. Towns that use the county for both police and fire dispatching would get a discounted rate — a total of $1.25 per resident.

Epping Police Chief Michael Wallace opposes the $10,000-a-year charge and brought the issue to selectmen, who voted to send a letter to commissioners voicing their displeasure.

Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh shared his opposition to the charge with Rye selectmen Monday night. That board also plans to send a letter to commissioners expressing concern about the charge, which could cost Rye close to $8,000 a year.

Walsh said there’s nothing in the initial proposal that says specifically where the money will go, but more importantly, “everybody is paying their county taxes and this is part of their service.”

Rockingham County Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Derry disagrees. He said the time has come for towns that use county dispatch to start paying up.

Coyle represents larger towns like Derry and Londonderry, which pay for their own dispatch centers and don’t rely on county dispatch centers. Exeter, Hampton, Portsmouth and Raymond are also among the communities that provide their own dispatching.

Coyle said towns and cities operating dispatch centers shouldn’t have to pay for “capital upgrades” to a county dispatch center they don’t use.

“I don’t think the bigger communities should subsidize the smaller communities. They’ve got to recognize they’re getting a service that other communities don’t get, and they’re getting it for free,” he said, adding that all residents in the county pay county taxes, but “Rockingham County dispatch is not there for everybody.”

Coyle said it is less expensive for towns to pay for county dispatch services than funding their own center or contracting with another municipal dispatch center. He pointed out that a small town like Chester pays the town of Derry an estimated $40,000 a year to provide dispatching for its fire department.

Londonderry Police Chief Bill Hart said the cost of upgrading the county dispatch center would have little impact on Londonderry taxpayers.

“It’s a marginal increase at best,” he said.

Sheriff Downing said the idea to charge came from a management study done in 2011.

“A lot of communities that dispatch for other communities charge. It’s not something new or unique. The commissioners decided that’s the route they want to take,” he said.

But Downing stressed that the financial aspect is still being worked out and could change.

“It’s premature to start putting figures out,” he said.

Commissioners plan to hold a meeting with police and fire chiefs on Wednesday, June 19 at 5 p.m. at the county complex to discuss the proposal.

County Commissioner Tom Tombarello of Sandown said he’s still looking at the options, but added that while the county could increase taxes to pay for the dispatch upgrades, “I just can’t see charging towns that provide their own dispatch.”

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