August 24, 2005
TIM NELSON, Pioneer Press

The plan to consolidate Ramsey County's four 911 answering points hit another snag Tuesday, as the County Board voted to reopen negotiations over the merger's financing.

With work on the project expected to begin soon, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly expressed frustration over Tuesday's decision.

"We have, in good faith, worked on this for two years," Kelly said. "We are through negotiating."

He and City Council President Kathy Lantry said they expected the new 911 dispatch center to open Feb. 1. That would end years of effort and millions of dollars the city has put in to partially consolidate its law enforcement services with the county -- including the wholesale relocation of its police department.

Ramsey County commissioners, though, were responding to objections raised by White Bear Lake and Maplewood and the mayors of eight smaller suburbs that get public safety services through the county. A consolidated county center would be paid for by property taxes, and they argued that property taxes wouldn't correlate to the use of the dispatch service.

"Call volume is the most appropriate basis for distributing dispatching costs," they wrote in an Aug. 17 letter.

The existing merger proposal, under serious negotiation for more than a year, would have gradually shifted the $5.1 million St. Paul annually pays to provide 911 services to the county.

Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough said the shift is difficult in part because the suburbs have effectively been subsidized in the past.

"I acknowledge there is an increase, and, in some cities, a great increase," McDonough said before the vote. "But the biggest piece of that gap and jump is attributable to the fact that for years they have not paid the right rate."

He and two of his fellow commissioners from St. Paul, Rafael Ortega and Toni Carter, voted against reopening the negotiations. But St. Paul Commissioner Janice Rettman, who also represents Falcon Heights, joined the three suburban commissioners in voting to reopen the finance discussions.

Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt pointed out that the ultimate configuration of a new consolidated dispatch center isn't due to the manufacturer, Motorola, until late next month. County Manager David Twa said a final decision will likely have to be made by Sept. 13.

"I think in the end, everybody is going to come out OK on this thing," Commissioner Tony Bennett of Shoreview said after the vote.

Tim Nelson can be reached at tnelson@pioneerpress.com or 651-292-1159.

2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.