Split board recommends planning for dispatch center in new LEC

The latest proposal for a new Floyd County Jail and Sheriff's Department. Prochaska & Associates drawing
The latest proposal for a new Floyd County Jail and Sheriff’s Department. Prochaska & Associates drawing
By Bob Steenson, bsteenson@charlescitypress.com 

A divided Floyd County Communications Board approved a recommendation Monday evening to include space for county dispatching services in a new law enforcement center and jail that is being proposed to be built.

The vote was split along city and county lines, with the deciding “yes” vote cast by the lone at-large member on the board.

Communications Board members Linda Tjaden, county supervisor; and Jeff Crooks, sheriff; the county representatives on the board, voted in favor of the motion made by Tjaden, “to recommend to the Board of Supervisors to include the dispatch center in the plans for the new law enforcement center.”

City representatives Keith Starr and Mike Hammond, also City Council members, voted against the recommendation.

Rick Palmer, the at-large member and chairman of the board, cast the deciding “yes” vote.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported the voting.)

The 3-2 vote has no immediate impact, other than ticking off one more box on the path to setting a bond referendum to build a new law enforcement center (LEC) including a new county jail.

The county is proposing to build a new LEC next to and attached to the courthouse, and the preliminary plans have always included space for a county dispatch center.

Tjaden said after the meeting that the county supervisors will proceed as they had been, including space for dispatchers in the LEC plans, but it was important to get the Communication Board’s recommendation.

The Communications Board had tabled a decision on the move for a couple of meetings, and county supervisors in effect forced a decision at a special meeting Monday night by requesting the board meet for the purpose of making a recommendation.

The supervisors noted that they could make a decision to relocate the dispatch center with or without a recommendation from the Communications Board, because the county pays almost all the costs for dispatch services.

At the meeting Monday, Tjaden addressed a number of questions that had been raised about the move.

A cost estimate put together by Sgt. Travis Bartz of the Sheriff’s Office showed that the cost to move the communications center would probably range from about $20,000 to $50,000.

The dispatch center located in the LEC could be operated by the Sheriff’s Office, the Emergency Management Agency or some other group.

It could be managed by a group similar to the current Communications Board, by a larger board including other cities with police departments (Nora Springs and Rockford) and all the fire departments and ambulance crews, or by the Emergency Management Commission.

All dispatchers would be offered similar positions with the county, with no reduction in pay, Tjaden said.

She said the fact that dispatch has run smoothly for many years at the City Hall under the management of the chief of police does not mean that there aren’t problems. Previous studies have pointed to space insufficiencies at City Hall, and the City Council has made City Hall space and other concerns one of its priorities, she said.

Moving the dispatch center to a new LEC would give current dispatchers an opportunity to help plan their new space, would provide more room and possibly updated equipment, and would put dispatchers in the same facility as the Emergency Management Agency, Tjaden said.

Several people spoke at the meeting.

Randy Vandeventer, of R Campground, said as a taxpayer he didn’t see the necessity of moving the dispatch center.

“Why do we need to change something that works just fine?” he asked.

He said the dispatchers had a secure facility that was hard-wired to the radio tower at the City Hall location.

“I just don’t see that it’s gonna be a benefit to the taxpayers of Floyd County,” Vandeventer said.

William Cavanaugh, the secretary of a new LEC campaign committee, said he was one of the original members of the Communications Board. Having the dispatchers at the LEC would allow having jailers trained to back the dispatchers up in times of emergency, he said.

Dean Andrews, mayor of Charles City, recommended making room for a dispatch center in a new LEC, then in the future if the need arises, move it over.

Ben Chatfield, chairman of the county 911 Board and Floyd fire chief, suggested making space for dispatch in the LEC, but a “reasonable time frame” would be to wait about five years before moving the center.

That would give the 911 Board time to set aside funds for a move, would allow time to see what changes might be necessary because of a statewide 911 system, and would make existing equipment, which is relatively new, closer to the end of its useful life so it would make sense to replace it.

An original motion by Tjaden for the board to express support for the LEC and recommend moving the communications center was objected to by Starr.

He said he favored a new jail and would work to support it, but he didn’t think the Communications Board should go on record as favoring the idea before they even knew what the potential bond referendum says.

Tjaden changed her motion to just recommend moving the communications center, and that motion passed on the 3-2 vote.