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St. Croix, Pierce could merge 911 dispatch centers

Although there was reluctance to spend more money at this point, the St. Croix County Board voted last week to proceed with discussions regarding the merger of the Pierce and St. Croix county dispatch centers.

The Pierce County Board adopted a similar resolution the same day.

Last June, the two counties agreed to hire a consultant and begin study of the feasibility of merging the 911 centers, and each county agreed to spend up to $20,000, said County Administrator Pat Thompson. That study was completed in February.

The resolution adopted last week directs Thompson to continue working on an implementation plan, addressing issues of governance, financing and operations. Spending on this plan will be capped at $20,000 until the County Board approves more.

The board needs to set some ground rules, because the estimated cost of the next step is $70,000, and the counties haven’t agreed on a cost split on that, said Supervisor Andy Brinkman, New Richmond.

The consultant has divided pre-merger costs into five steps with a total cost of $375,500 for all five, said St. Croix County management analyst Kristen Ziliak.

“I got heartburn,” said Supervisor Dave Ostness, River Falls, of his reaction at seeing the costs. He said he has no problem looking at the merger, but he finds the numbers intimidating.

“Is there a point of no return?” asked Supervisor Travis Schachtner, Somerset.

That’s why it’s broken into steps — the county could back out at any point in the five-step plan, replied Ostness.

A preliminary forecast of the capital costs to place a merged system in St. Croix County’s Hudson facility, excluding facility construction, is $1.6 million. The consultant offered three cost-sharing alternatives — based on population, events or equalized tax value — that result in St. Croix County paying 67 to 73 percent of the costs.

Thompson said there was no detailed discussion about how the $375,000 would be split.

“We do need to baby-step this,” said Brinkman. He suggested the two county administrators sit down and talk.

“It’s a very complicated, complex merger,” said Supervisor Ron Kiesler, New Richmond. He said the $375,500 includes attorney and consultant costs to develop the details.

On a vote of 18-1, the board approved an amended resolution to continue to study the concept of the merger.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.