County commits to absorbing city’s dispatch department

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Faced with severe budget cuts due to a loss in property tax revenue, Salem Mayor Troy Merry asked the Washington County Council if it’s open to combining the city’s and county’s dispatch departments.

The discussion was held during the county council’s meeting on Monday, Oct. 3.

Merry told Salem Common Council members in March that he was talking to Sheriff Roger Newlon about combining the departments as a way to save the city money. At that time, Merry had thought the city might keep a dispatcher to cover the day shift; however, now Merry believes all three of the city’s dispatch shifts may need to be cut.

Merry renewed the conversation about the merger following a state report in August that estimated the city could face a possible revenue loss of about $600,000 due to the state’s property tax circuit breaker law.

Newlon told the county council he supports the merger.

Merry said he had planned for the city to provide $67,000 to the county annually for the dispatch center.

The county had planned to add one dispatcher to help alleviate overtime concerns in the department. After some discussion, council members said they will likely add two dispatchers.

Mark Clark, the county’s attorney, said the county and the city will have to sign an inter-local agreement. They will need to decide the term of that agreement.

Councilman David Hoar said the merger of the county and city dispatch centers had been discussed before and he believes now is the time to do it. He’s hopeful the merger may relieve some overtime problems in the county’s dispatch department.

Clark said no motion was needed at that time. The attorneys for each entity will need to meet to work out the details of the agreement.

Merry said the merger will save the city money as well as free up some office space.

A target date of Jan. 1 was set for the merger. Clark said council members will have to sign the agreement at their November meeting to meet that target date.

The city’s 911 calls are already automatically routed to the county’s dispatch center.

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