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County set to take dispatch

The Washington County Board gave Sheriff Steve Pott the green light last week to hire five full-time dispatchers and a public safety answering point coordinator.

The dispatchers will take care of the 15 percent increase in calls expected when the Cottage Grove dispatch center closes and the duties are transferred to Washington County.

It's proposed that the five new positions with the county will be filled by displaced Cottage Grove dispatchers.

"All five came to the department for orientation," Pott said. "I'm hopeful they all can come."

Board Member Gary Kriesel, who represents the Stillwater area, said he "did the math" on the number of calls to the sheriff's office and wonders if five will be too many.

"I was hoping for more economy," Kriesel said.

There were 43,000 emergency calls to 911 last year and 100,000 initial complaint reports from citizens, Pott said.

"I'm not sure five is the right answer," he said. "We didn't expect this to happen so quickly. They have other duties. We can re-evaluate later.

"I'd sure hate to hire five and find out later that you only need four."

County Administrator Jim Schug said the office of administration has been involved in the hiring decision.

"There's enough turnover that five can be accommodated," he said.

Including benefits, dispatchers cost $50,000 a year. The additional money will come from the department's contingency account.

He said there would be a three-month training period.

"I used to step in and dispatch," Pott said. "But now I can't because it's become too complicated."

Before the Cottage Grove changeover takes place in six to eight weeks, the sheriff's department is finding ways to integrate radio and data-access systems into the sheriff's office. In addition, there is some remodeling taking place.

Dispatching from the sheriff's office will be on a 24-hour basis, Pott said. The advantage for the city includes having more dispatchers available to answer calls if there is a large emergency situation to respond to.

Woodbury has had daytime dispatching with after-hours calls going to the sheriff's office. The city will have 24-hour sheriff's office dispatching beginning Aug. 1.

City dispatching worked well when the city was smaller in population, Pott said, when calls were about "cats in trees." But with growth, more calls result in police responses.

"I hope this will be a positive move," said Board Member Myra Peterson. "I'm concerned about giving up the local safety net. Change is always hard."

The Cottage Grove City Council is expected to discuss a transition plan for its dispatching services Wednesday during its meeting.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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