The city of St. Maries pays the sheriff’s office to dispatch deputies to police calls within the city limits.
Mayor Tom Carver wants to know why.
Mayor Carver sent a letter to Sheriff Dave Resser last month questioning details of the agreement that calls for the city to pay $67,000 for dispatch. Mayor Carver said he does not think the fee is fair.
“I think right now the citizens of St. Maries are getting a double-whammy because they are paying for dispatch in their tax dollars and we are paying it again through the fee,” he said.
Sheriff Resser says the agreement makes sense. It’s a matter of math.
Wages and benefits to staff the dispatch center total about $420,000 annually. He said the city actually pays $55,000 a year for the service because it collects $12,000 from St. Maries ambulance to cover its costs for dispatch.
Despite paying a fraction of the cost of the service, Sheriff Resser said the city is a heavy user of the dispatch services.
“From January through October we handled 1,114 incidents for the city through dispatch,” Sheriff Resser said.
In addition, he said his office pays a fee every time a deputy runs a license plate for the city.
“The city gets a good deal on these fees,” he said.
Mayor Carver is not convinced.
“I feel the city of St. Maries is already paying for those services through their taxes,” he said.
Mayor Carver also questioned why St. Maries is the only entity that pays for dispatch service. He said other entities that use the service, including the city of Plummer and St. Maries fire, do not pay.
Sheriff Resser said he could not explain why other entities do not pay for dispatch but it is the system that was in place when he took office.
In the Oct. 23 letter to Sheriff Resser, Mayor Carver asked the annual cost of dispatch county-wide, how it is funded, use by the city compared to other entities and whether the county is required to provide the service.
Sheriff Resser said that if the city refuses to pay for dispatch services then his office would only be obligated to dispatch for emergency 911 calls.
The county does provide other services to the city related to criminal justice for which the city does not pay.
The county does not charge the city for inmates in the county jail. The state rate is $75 per day. In addition, the county spends $130,000 annual for public defenders but does not bill the city.
The city does, however, pay the county $600/month for prosecution. The county prosecutor’s budget is $159,000 annually.
Questions about dispatch fees come on the heels of a recent dustup between the city and the sheriff over the coverage provided by deputies in the city. The city and the county signed an agreement in 2017 in which the city pays the county $270,000 for police coverage.
In August Mayor Carver questioned if the county was providing the service. He said the contract stipulates a deputy is assigned to the city 16 hours every day.
“I really believe we are not getting what we are paying for,” he said at the time.
Sheriff Resser said work schedules and call logs confirm his department provides the coverage. Further, he said the city is “getting a good deal” and would spend considerably more if it re-formed its own police department.
Mayor Carver disagrees.
In an August phone call he told Sheriff Resser the city can operate a police department for less money than what it currently pays the sheriff – and it would not pay dispatch fees.
“I have people who encourage me to bring our police department back. With the money we have in our budget we could bring back at least three (officers) and pay them really good money,” Mayor Carver said. “If we bring our police department back, we are not going to pay dispatch.”
The city budgeted $410,000 the last year it had its own police department. The city pays the county $336,595, which includes $67,000 for dispatch services.