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City approves joining regional dispatch center

West Fargo is on its way to joining the Red River Regional Dispatch Center (RRRDC), which means that the City could soon have its 911 calls answered by the agency. The Center currently coordinates calls for all the cities in both Cass and Clay County, with the exception of West Fargo. The request to become a member of the Dispatch Center was presented by Police Chief Arland Rasmussen at the Commission's regularly scheduled Monday night meeting.

The Commission unanimously approved a letter of intention to the RRRDC asking that the West Fargo Police and Fire Departments be considered as members and that negotiations and talks pertaining to costs, staffing and the process of physically switching be continued with Rasmussen, as well as other City officials.

The City of Fargo initially applied and was approved for a $3 million matching grant that will be used to purchase a new Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management System for the RRRDC, located at 300 NP Ave. in downtown Fargo. "This grant would enable the Center to obtain a state of the art system that our communities could never have dreamed of before the grant," Rasmussen said.

"I have met several times with members of the RRRDC Board and believe now is the right time for West Fargo to become a member," Rasmussen added. "Finance and technology are the reasons I support moving in this direction. We do not have a CAD system, but need one. We also need a new records system, but both are extremely expensive and would be cost prohibitive to do alone, and probably would not be compatible with other local jurisdictions that we work with on a day-to-day basis."

Commissioner Mark Simmons agreed, noting that West Fargo was last approached about joining the Dispatch Center in 2001, but declined respectfully at that time with the option to review it in the future. "It appears the future is here, he said. "With the technology and finance this is the way to go."

Dispatch personnel were also discussed. Since there are presently eight dispatchers at the West Fargo Police Department, joining the RRRDC will require some changes. Rasmussen said he hopes six of the dispatchers can remain at West Fargo, since they handle many duties in addition to answering calls, i.e. issuing licenses, working with warrants, and other general clerical and walk-in responsibilities. He said if the dispatches weren't taking care of some of these areas, the Department would have to call an officer in to do so. He added that keeping the dispatchers would be more cost-effective than hiring additional officers. He said that RRRDC indicated they will need more staffing to service the additional West Fargo calls, so hopefully some of the personnel could relocate there.

As far as a time frame, Rasmussen said it would take 60 to 180 days to get everything transitioned and in place.

The Commission also agreed they would share in the cost of matching funds needed for the grant, with the amount to be equally divided by Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead, Cass County, and Clay County at a cost not to exceed 20 percent or $150,000 payable over a three-year period. Being accepted by the RRRDC would also mean that West Fargo would have a voting member on their Board of Authority.

Budgeting for West Fargo's portion of the grant won't happen until the 2009-2010 calendar year. City Administrator Jim Brownlee said there is ample money in the 2008 budget to pay for joining the RRRDC, which will be approximately $242,000, with Dispatch Backup Center equipment still to be worked out. Brownlee said the savings in joining the RRRDC should be about $150,000 to $200,000 per year. There would also be some buy-in costs to become a member, but those figures are also still uncertain.

Mayor Rich Mattern said he favored the plan. "If that future time is now, I think there has been some very good give-and-take here between all those involved."

Fire Chief Roy Schatschneider said "the current dispatchers are doing a fantastic job, but if we don't take this opportunity we will be left behind. It will be a challenge, but doable. I think we can make it work."

Mattern added that he felt West Fargo City Hall needed to continue to retain its open status after the 5 p.m. hour. Rasmussen said they are going to try and continue to maintain that flexibility for the individuals who prefer doing business during this time. The Police Department is now presently open 24 hours a day.

The RRRDC Board held their regularly scheduled monthly meeting yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon and Rasmussen said he expected they would consider the request at that time.