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Staffing concerns prompt northern Wisconsin counties to explore merging 911 dispatch centers

Two northern Wisconsin counties are exploring a possible merger of their 911 dispatch centers to improve staffing levels and services in the region.

Ashland and Bayfield counties are splitting the cost of a roughly $50,000 feasibility study that will be conducted by Pennsylvania-based Mission Critical Partners to examine equipment, staffing and governance of a potential joint dispatch center.

The study is being conducted as the counties are each seeking to apply for up to $500,000 in grant funding as part of $6 million that’s available from the state for equipment and training to transition to NextGeneration9-1-1. The system is expected to improve emergency response by allowing transmission of both audio and data, including photos, videos and texts, from 911 calls.

The grants also fund expenses related to consolidation of public safety answering points or dispatch centers that answer 911 calls. Bayfield County Emergency Management Director Meagan Quaderer said the counties are exploring that option to improve services and address staffing issues.

“Both counties are small, and there are financial restrictions for both counties on how much staff they can afford to fund,” Quaderer said.

Bayfield County’s dispatch center has a roughly $450,000 budget with six full-time and two part-time employees, said the county’s Chief Deputy Andy Runice.

“We’re trying to hopefully address that concern to be sustainable throughout the future in response to our communities,” Runice said.

Ashland County currently budgets just under $675,000 for its five full-time employees and four part-time dispatchers. The county’s administrator, Dan Grady, said its dispatch center currently operates with only one dispatcher on staff for eight hours a day.

“We have two dispatchers on most of the time, but there are some slower time periods when we don’t. Bayfield County does not either. So, that’s one of the impetuses to looking at the merging of dispatches,” Grady said during the county’s public safety committee meeting Monday.

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