Rockingham County considers user fees
BRENTWOOD — A subcommittee of the Rockingham County delegation will present its final report Friday on a proposal to impose fees on the towns that use the county dispatch center.
The county commissioners proposed the fees as a way to fund upgrades to the dispatch center, but the idea has faced opposition from many police and fire officials in the county’s smaller communities.
The decision on whether to charge the fees will rests with the commissioners, but the subcommittee chaired by state Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, was appointed to look into the idea and make recommendations.
Under the proposal, towns that use county dispatch center could be charged a fee per resident for police dispatch, another fee for fire dispatch, or a combined fee for those towns using both police and fire.
A meeting of county officials and some members from the county delegation — a group composed of state representatives from the county — will meet today at 9:30 a.m. in the Hilton Auditorium at the Rockingham County Nursing Home. The meeting is held quarterly to review the county budget, but the subcommittee’s report on the dispatch fee is expected to be fractious.
The debate over the fees has pit smaller and larger communities against one another. Most small towns in the county rely on county dispatch because they don’t have their own dispatch center. Larger towns and the city of Portsmouth fund their own dispatch centers and don’t depend on the county for regular police and fire dispatching services.
County Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Derry supports the user fee, arguing larger communities with dispatch centers are subsidizing smaller towns that use county dispatch because all communities are paying county taxes.
“I represent 75,000 people in Derry, Londonderry and Windham who receive absolutely no benefit from Rockingham County dispatch, yet we contribute more than any small town that uses it,” Coyle said, adding that police and fire chiefs have tried to “bully” commissioners into opposing the fee proposal.Commissioner Tom Tombarello of Sandown — a town that doesn’t have a dispatch center — doesn’t support the user fee. He said he thinks the dispatch funding should be part of the county budget and paid for by all communities through their county taxes.
“We don’t charge bigger towns extra because they have more inmates in the jail and more people in the nursing home,” he said.
It’s not known when the three commissioners will vote on the fee issue, but Tombarello, chairman of the Sandown Board of Selectmen, told Sandown Police Chief Joseph Gordon to add another $6,000 to next year’s proposed police budget just in case the fee is approved.
State Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow, said he wants to hear the recommendations in the subcommittee’s report, but at this point opposes the user fees.
“My own personal view is this is a county function, and it should be part of the county budget process,” said Major, who heads the county delegation.