Hopkins’ city manager and emergency services are backing a plan that would eliminate the city’s dispatch center and transfer dispatch responsibilities to Hennepin County—saving a few hundred thousand dollars in the process.
On Tuesday, City Manager Mike Mornson, Police Chief Mike Reynolds and Fire Chief Dale Specken asked council members to consider an arrangement that could potentially move Hopkins to the Hennepin County system at the start of 2013.
“It just makes sense, from the money aspect of this decision, to look at Hennepin County dispatch,” Reynolds said. “It’s a substantial decrease there for our citizens.”
Economies of scale
is the smallest community in Hennepin County to have its own dispatch center. Because of that size, Hopkins pays more per person to operate the dispatch center than any other community in the county. In 2010, the cost per resident was $27.84. The next most-costly dispatch center was Richfield at $19.48.
Because Hopkins residents also pay taxes to Hennepin County, they are in effect paying twice—once for local dispatch service and again for county dispatch service they don’t fully take advantage of. Factoring in these county costs, Hopkins residents paid $41.28 per person, a total that would have been $13.44 if the city relied exclusively on the county.
These per-person costs aren’t the only reason Hopkins staff want out of the dispatch game. If the city continues to run its own dispatch center, its analog phone system must be upgraded to a digital system this year. That would cost $50,000 in 2012 with ongoing lease expenses of $20,000 to $40,000 per year, depending on the length of the lease.
And in the longer term, the city would not have to spend an anticipated $570,000 to upgrade dispatch equipment in 2018—taking some pressure off .
The city would have to increase public service officer coverage to 24 hours a day to meet Department of Corrections requirements for the number of people who must be in a building when someone is in the city jail. But Reynolds estimates Hopkins could save at least $300,000 a year.
The county could even take on Hopkins dispatchers so they wouldn’t have to look for jobs in a difficult market.
Both Reynolds and Mornson—who moved to Hopkins in 2010 and 2011, respectively—said they had good experiences with Hennepin County at their previous jobs. Reynolds was part of a transition from local to county dispatch while at Brooklyn Center, and Mornson’s previous community, St. Anthony, relied on Hennepin County dispatch services.
“It’s a professional service. I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t,” Reynolds said.
Roadblocks and unknowns
But moving to county dispatch has its own challenges. For one, the county might not want Hopkins. In November 2004, county commissioners approved a resolution barring those who declined county dispatch at the time from joining on for at least eight years.
Sheriff Rich Stanek said the county’s existing dispatch has sufficient capacity to accommodate Hopkins—and will have even more space.
“The Sheriff’s Office, bottom line, wants to provide dispatch services to you and the citizens of Hopkins,” he said.
But it’s not clear if commissioners would be willing to open their doors. Commissioner Jan Callison—who, like Stanek, attended Tuesday’s work session—said she didn’t yet have a position on it.
The math could also change. Right now, the 35 cities that use the county system don’t have to pay a fee. Stanek, an elected official in his own right, wants to continue with that model. But there’s been talk at the county of charging cities to use the system—a decision that would ultimately rest with the County Board, not Stanek.
“Really, getting the complete financial picture is somewhat of a challenge,” Councilwoman Molly Cummings said.
Mayor Gene Maxwell said the city needs to host community meetings to ensure this is really the path Hopkins wants to take.
“By losing your 911, your dispatch, you lose a little bit of your identity,” he said.
Still, all the council members thought it was an idea worth exploring further, and some, like Jason Gadd, said they don’t see any downsides.
The city will next approach the County Board to see how commissioners feel about accepting Hopkins.