Punches still being thrown in dispatch service dispute

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

In the most recent episode of the city of Newcastle and Weston County Board of Commissioners dispatch saga, the city warned the county in a letter that the contract for dispatch services would be terminated in 60 days if a new agreement was not met. The commissioners discussed the letter during their Sept. 6 meeting. 

The letter from City Attorney Mike Hughes, of Hughes Law Office in Sundance, states that “the City Council of Newcastle desires to terminate the County/City Dispatch Contract for the year 2020-2021 and discontinue the month-to-month payment basis. This letter serves as notification that sixty (60) days’ notice to end the current month-to-month basis has been given and the contract will terminate the end of October. Starting in November, the City will start to bill for dispatch services according to use unless a new contract is formed between the parties.” 

At this time, according to information provided by the city earlier this year, Weston County pays $4,500 a month or $54,000 a year. If the county were to pay by population percentage, or 37% of dispatch costs, costs would be $17,027 a month.

No cost estimate was provided for an at-use billing basis. 

On March 1, the county voted to put away $672,000 of coronavirus relief funds received by the county to pay for setting up its own county dispatch services. In total, the county received $1.2 million of the federal money. 

Currently, the city is still providing dispatch services to Upton and the county despite the continued disagreement and soon to be separation of the two entities. The city is in the process of relocating the Newcastle Police Department and dispatch to City Hall, and the county has decided to move forward with establishing its own dispatch service. 

A dispatch contract between the two entities has not been renewed for years, according to County Attorney Michael Stulken. The county had proposed developing a joint powers board to operate dispatch services county wide, but the city declined, indicating that it preferred the county continue to contract with the city for the service. 

“I am not sure what contract it is talking about,” Stulken said. 

Commissioner Don Taylor added that the disagreement is a “touchy” subject. 

“It feels like we’re playing hardball and drawing lines in the sand, still putting people at risk and not solving an actual problem,” Taylor said. 

He noted that he was disappointed to see the letter because there is not even a contract in place. 

“It opens a can of worms,” Taylor said, adding that the city is trying to run dispatch like a business instead of thinking about what is best for everyone in the county. 

Sheriff Bryan Colvard said the main issue with the ultimatum is the inability for the county to have its dispatch services up and running in the time frame provided by the city. He explained that the city will have to be 100% out of the current dispatch space before the county can even begin to set up a dispatch center. 

“There is not a lot we can do until they have their side accomplished,” he said. 

Colvard noted that the city plans to be out sometime in September, but that its new dispatch center will have to be completely up and running before the current system is turned off. 

“I personally think we need to figure this out. We need to be able to provide dispatch service to the entire county until the county (dispatch) is up and running,” Colvard said.

He noted that, optimistically, the county could have dispatch services up and running 90 days after the city vacates the area, potentially a bit longer depending on staffing.

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