Dispatch consolidation still on hold 
Suburban mayors want Ďplan Bí

Jackie Fritzke, Staff writer, Roseville Review
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In Ramsey Countyís efforts to consolidate emergency dispatch services, at least nine mayors in the countyís suburban cities fear St. Paul will be the only winner.

Mayors Sue Gehrz of Falcon Heights, Sandy Martin of Shoreview, Tom Watson of North Oaks, Bev Aplikowski of Arden Hills, Bill Blesener of Little Canada, Steve Larson of New Brighton, Sue Banovetz of Vadnais Heights, Bill Sandberg of North St. Paul, Craig Klausing of Roseville and Paul Auger of White Bear Lake all recently signed and submitted a letter to a daily paper in response to its editorial that criticized Maplewood Mayor Bob Cardinalís recent vote to delay consolidation with Ramsey County and St. Paul.

"Cardinal was right to raise some important questions about the countyís proposed plan for consolidation," the letter said.

But despite Cardinalís delay, he has given many indications that he will cast the decisive "yes" vote for consolidation Aug. 22.

Cost vs. use debated

As it stands, the county estimates the cost of consolidating services will be about $10 million a year. County Board member Janice Rettman, who represents Falcon Heights and a portion of St. Paul, estimates that $6 million of this cost would stem from dispatching services provided to St. Paul alone. Yet the current funding formula, accepted by St. Paul and awaiting county board acceptance Aug. 23, has St. Paul footing 44 percent of that yearly bill (while using more than 70 percent of county resources) with the countyís suburbs picking up the remaining 56 percent.

"We believe, as suburban mayors, while we fully expect and are willing to pick up some of St. Paulís costs, we think the current formula is really out of balance," Gehrz said.

What frustrates these suburban cities is that most of them passed resolutions earlier this year supporting the concept of consolidated dispatch, but requesting re-analysis of the cost allocations. 

And the cities are still waiting for a response from the county.

"The county really hasnít worked with the suburban communities, besides those that have their own dispatch centers (White Bear Lake and Maplewood)," Gehrz said. "We take issue with the funding formula. They donít have a plan B, so we are obligated to come up with plan B."

Some suburban city managers are currently working on an alternative formula, or plan B, that will be discussed at a meeting of the mayors at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at Falcon Heights City Hall.

"We are eager to work on this," Gehrz said. "Whenever (a city) can pass its costs onto someone else, of course that looks attractive to them. But we count on a more balanced way of dealing with these kinds of issues."

St. Paul Deputy Mayor Dennis Flaherty said neither he nor St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly have been invited to the meeting and added that, in any case, the time for negotiations has passed.

"Frankly, our piece of this is over and I think their issues may be with the county," he said. "There would be no purpose for us to weigh in on their problems."

Besides, Flaherty said he sees no flaws in the formula.

"I think itís very fair," he said. "St. Paul taxpayers, through their property taxes, pay for (a suburban dispatch center) right now. Taxpayers of St. Paul have been subsidizing the dispatching of these suburbs for many decades."

But Cardinal said he thought St. Paul would be open to negotiations, because without Maplewoodís support, it is unlikely there will be any consolidation.

"St. Paul wants this in the worst way," Cardinal said. "They are the ones that really needed this. Everyone else was pretty adequate."

Maplewood holding the piní

Consolidation talks began shortly after the county decided to convert its cities to an 800-megahertz system that allows for easier communication between law enforcement agencies.

Because of the modern equipment Maplewood had purchased over four years ago, implementation of the 800 MHz system would cost $250,000, according to City Manager Richard Fursman. The other three dispatching centers, however, call for equipment overhauls and, in the case of St. Paul and the county, whole new facilities. While White Bear Lake (which said "no thanks" to consolidation) can expect a $325,000 bill, Ramsey County and St. Paul expect startup costs of more than $1 million each.

For months, these numbers and the funding formula have caused Cardinal and at least two Maplewood council members to question the county and St. Paulís motives for consolidation.

"Doesnít it strike you as odd that we are not the hugest player in the county, but we have the pin?" Maplewood Council Member Kathy Juenemann inquired at a July 25 council meeting. "Itís not our fault that the city of St. Paul let their center and their equipment go straight to a warm place, and the countyís fairly close after them. The timing was incredibly convenient for two major players that have nothing. Ö But they need a place and new equipment and we have the money."

County Board Chair Victoria Reinhardt, who represents Maplewood, later said Cardinal and Juenemannís assessments of the situation were correct.

"I find it hard to believe that anyone could look at this situation and not see that Maplewood is the one in the driverís seat," she said. "If Maplewood says that itís not going to come in, then my vote will go with it. That could make a difference on whether or not the votes are there for consolidating with St. Paul. My position has been rock solid."

But Cardinal remains optimistic that a compromise can be reached and that Maplewood will be back on board when the council is expected to reconsider and re-vote Aug. 22.

"We could have gone in and we would have been okay, but everybody else would have suffered and it would have collapsed," he said. "Now, by just asking some questions, those issues can be addressed."

Meanwhile, Flaherty maintains there will be no renegotiations, but based on a recent conversation he had with Cardinal and Kelly, Flaherty agrees with Cardinal that there will be a consolidation.

"It was a very positive conversation," Flaherty said. "I think Mayor Cardinal is on board, and I do look forward to him approving the consolidation Aug. 22."

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