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September 2014

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City of Oconomowoc to handle Town of Oconomowoc police dispatch services

Town of Oconomowoc - The town Police Department on Dec. 17 unanimously approved contracting with the City of Oconomowoc for police dispatch services. Since 2004, the town has contracted with Waukesha County Communications (WCC) dispatch.

Police Chief James Wallis said the county still provides a great service, but he feels the considerable upgrade the city has installed at its dispatch center, the price the city is offering for a five-year contract and the fact that the two municipalities already work so closely make it the best choice for the town at this time.

City of Oconomowoc Police Chief Dave Beguhn said both dispatch centers successfully get the job done, but one main difference is when a call is made to the Oconomowoc dispatch center, it is toned out to local police at the same time. When a call is made to WCC, it goes through a WCC operator and then is radioed to the local dispatch, who contacts local police. The local dispatch takes one step out of the process, which can serve as a benefit to local safety departments, Beguhn said.

The city will charge $20,000 a year for dispatch services beginning in January, and the cost will increase by $1,000 a year until 2017, for a total of $110,000 over the five years. Wallis said the change to the city dispatch will not affect the town budget or necessitate an increase to taxpayers. Beguhn said the new contract also will not adversely affect the city dispatch, requiring more staff or add to the budget.

Wallis said it's hard to compare the cost of using the city dispatch vs. WCC.

"They propose (WCC is) 'free' because it's funded by Waukesha County, but there are other things like computers in our squads and programs that tie in with their communications (that the town is charged for)," the chief explained.

The charges differ by community, and the issue created a stir this summer when local fire chiefs - including Jack Edwards of Lake Country Fire and Rescue and Doug Brahm of the Lisbon Fire Department - objected to fees assessed to their departments to pay for software licenses. The chiefs said the fees should be the county's responsibility, not the local departments'.

For LCFR, the fees assessed this summer were $5,600 to help the county pay software licensing fees. Edwards said that might not seem like a lot, but it has a definite effect on his budget. "I know some people may not think that $5,600 is a lot of money for Lake Country Fire and Rescue. But that is $5,600 every year, and we are not sure where the fees will go from here. It is one more expense that we have to pay for," Edwards previously said.

County officials explained that both the county and the municipalities have budget constraints, and the municipalities should share the licensing costs with the county since the municipalities have the option of whether or not to use the software.

County Administrator Norm Cummings added that county taxpayers are already paying for the multimillion dollar dispatch center and for more than half the cost of the computer software license fees. He said the fees being assessed to the local fire departments are justified because they represent a portion of the costs county government has to pay for the new program software. He said county taxpayers should not be required to bear all of the cost because the software is optional equipment not used by all of the departments.

For the town, Wallis said the change to the city dispatch is a business decision.

"When we left Oconomowoc dispatch in 2004, it was a monetary decision, but they've made steps to bring things up-to-date. They've updated their center. If they hadn't done the update, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Wallis said.

In 2010, the city did a $400,000 upgrade to its dispatch center, the first in 17 years. Beguhn at the time said that the city dispatch brings more local communication and control.

Wallis agreed that will be a main benefit for the town moving forward.

"This is our neighbor. They're right here. We work so close, We surround the city on the east, north and west side. It does cost a little, but I feel it will be a better service for the town, and the city has done an outstanding job with the dispatch," said Wallis.

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