Rockingham County panel says dispatch center shouldn’t rely on user fees
BRENTWOOD — A study commission appointed by the Rockingham County delegation has recommended against charging towns a fee to use the county’s dispatch center.
The recommendation was made Friday in a report presented to the executive committee of the delegation. The committee accepted it.
“Our conclusions and recommendations are that this fee is not the proper way to fund a vital function of the county,” the report said.
The report was released following a study by eight state representatives who served on the commission chaired by state Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston.
The commission was appointed after county commissioners suggested charging a user fee based on population to the 25 smaller towns that don’t have their own dispatch centers and rely exclusively on the center at the sheriff’s department for their police and fire dispatch services.
The fee would help cover some of the costs for upgrades to the dispatch center.
The proposal sparked a debate over whether they should be charged a separate fee for a service that has traditionally been provided under the county budget.
County Commissioners Kevin Coyle of Derry and Kate Pratt of Hampton have expressed support for the concept of a user fee while Commissioner Tom Tombarello of Sandown said he’s against it, arguing any money needed for the dispatch center should be included in the county budget, which is funded by all municipalities in the county.
Under the fee proposal, towns would be charged $1 per resident for police dispatch and 50 cents for fire dispatch. Towns with populations under 2,000 would be required to pay a minimum of $2,000.
Coyle maintains that the 11 larger towns and the city of Portsmouth, which have their own dispatch centers or some other dispatch arrangement, should not be obligated to pay for upgrades to a county dispatch center that they don’t use on a regular basis.
He also claims that the larger towns with their own dispatch centers couldn’t switch over and begin relying solely on county dispatch because that center would be overloaded and wouldn’t be able to handle all of the calls.
“Not everybody can be serviced,” he said. “We were trying to even the playing field by proposing fees. My town and the towns I represent that don’t receive that service would get a little bit off their tax bill.”
Weyler argued that the larger towns with their own dispatch centers still use the county dispatch in some capacity and that it does provide back-up for them.
He also pointed out that larger communities like Derry use other county services more often than smaller towns, but aren’t charged more. For instance, he said he was told by the county attorney that nearly 14 percent of cases prosecuted by his office come from Derry. “None of us receives an equal amount of services,” Weyler said.
Instead of charging a user fee, the commission recommended establishing a capital improvements fund using tax money paid by all municipalities in the county.
“Communication equipment is constantly evolving and will need replacement likely every decade. The municipalities all rely on the sheriff to provide this service to some extent, and it should be supported by all of us,” the report said.
County officials hope to offset a portion of the dispatch center upgrades with grant money, but at this point it’s not known if the county will get the grant.