By Tammy Gray
“We do want to move forward with this. We do want to be part of this, but we just need more solid numbers,” Holbrook Mayor Jeff Hill said regarding a proposal to create a regional dispatch center that could include nearly every emergency service agency in Navajo County.
Council members discussed a proposed memorandum of agreement that would create the framework for a regional dispatch center during a special council meeting Tuesday evening, but ultimately took no action.
City Manager Ray Alley explained to the council that the city attorney suggested some changes to the agreement, but since Holbrook is one of the last members of the founding group to approve the agreement it would mean starting anew to seek approval from all the other councils and governing boards.
Alley told the council that he might be willing to skip some of the minor changes suggested by the city attorney, but he was not comfortable entering into any agreement that did not specify the city’s financial obligation.
“I think maybe some financial people need to be involved in this instead of just the chiefs and administrators,” he remarked.
Police Chief Mark Jackson noted that he attended a recent meeting of stakeholders regarding the agreement and the general consensus is that further research is needed before the agreement is finalized.
“The atmosphere has changed since the last meeting,” he said. “A lot of people are stuck on the transitional costs. Everyone is for a regional dispatch center, they think it’s a good idea, but the transitional cost is a problem. They want to step back and reassess.”
Transitional costs include purchasing updated equipment and bringing in a private company to operate the dispatch center.
Alley explained that the group has been looking for ways to cut costs, but he is concerned about what may be eliminated during the cost-cutting phase. He noted, for example, that a major part of the reason the city contracted with Navajo County for dispatch services is because city equipment was outdated and there was little money available to replace it. If money is not set aside by the regional dispatch group on a regular basis to eventually replace equipment, then the entire region will be facing the same problem as Holbrook.
In addition, Alley told the council that the city contract with the county is at a rate of $110,000 for this fiscal year. By signing the agreement as presented, the city would be opening the door for the county to charge $170,000 this fiscal year, even before the transition to a regional center is complete. He noted that he wanted something in writing, even if it wasn’t part of the regional dispatch agreement, that ensures the city will not pay more than $110,000 this fiscal year.
“I’m not giving away $60,000,” he said.
He explained to the council that Show Low Emergency Medical Services (EMS) officials are also reconsidering whether they want to be a part of the regional dispatch center. According to Alley, if Show Low EMS withdraws, the cost distribution among agencies will change significantly since the agency’s contribution was expected to reach nearly 10 percent of the total revenue stream for the dispatch center.
Mayor Hill noted that he had spoken with County Manager Jimmy Jayne, and was left with the impression that the stakeholders wanted to set the agreement aside for now to re-evaluate the plan and the costs. He asked Alley whether he felt comfortable entering into the agreement at this time.
“No. I am not,” Alley said.
The council took no action, and asked Alley and Jackson to continue to meet with regional dispatch center stakeholders to determine what action should be taken next.
Alley noted that he believes exact costs and the specific division of financial contributions should be determined before any agreement is signed.