EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 29, 2013

Panel recommends not charging county fee

Study panel, commissioners clash

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — BRENTWOOD — A legislative study panel says county commissioners should drop a plan to charge towns for using the county dispatch center, but that recommendation may be cast aside.

The panel, appointed by the Rockingham County legislative commission, contends in a report presented to county commissioners Friday that the fee is not a reasonable way to fund proposed upgrades to the dispatch center.

“Our conclusions and recommendations are that this fee is not the proper way to fund a vital function of the county,” the study commission says in its report.

The panel recommends establishment of a capital improvements fund to pay for the upgrades, initially estimated to cost nearly $1 million.

But it remains to be seen whether the three county commissioners follow the panel’s recommendation. Chairman Katharin Pratt of Hampton and Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Derry are strong supporters of a fee.

Members of the county legislative delegation have questioned the commissioners’ right to assess such a fee. Coyle said they have told him he will not be re-elected if the fee is assessed.

“I’m not going to be bullied and intimidated by them,” Coyle said yesterday.

He called the report a waste of time and resources since it would be up to the commissioners, not the study panel, to decide whether a fee is assessed.

“It’s a nice little report,” Coyle said, “but it doesn’t mean anything.”

Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing said the projected cost for the improvements has since been reduced from $1 million to $421,000. He said a federal grant is being sought to fund 90 percent of the cost.

Pratt and Coyle said commissioners won’t vote on a funding mechanism until they know the county will receive the grant.

County commissioners received angry responses from some town officials and legislators when the plans to charge communities an annual fee was announced this spring.

The towns were told they would have to pay $1 per resident for police dispatch services and 50 cents per person for fire dispatch services on an annual basis.Towns using both services would pay $1.25 per resident.

Downing informed commissioners in January that the center and its 14-year-old console needed major improvements and could no longer receive adequate technical support.

The town representatives, including state Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, said they were already paying enough money through the county tax. Weyler is chairman of the eight-member study panel.

Paying the annual fee would would be tantamount to taxing communities twice for the same service, they said.

Last month, commissioners said they would drop the annual fee for this year but did not rule it out for next year. Pratt also said a proposal to assess a one-time drew a much more favorable response from town officials and lawmakers.

But when the study panel announced its recommendation to the commission Friday, Coyle said it was a bit irritating.

“They don’t want to pay for it,” he said.

Weyler said all 36 communities in the county would contribute to the capital improvements fund — a concept that drew harsh criticism from Coyle.

Coyle said large communities such as Derry and Londonderry should not be asked to pay for the improvements because they are not able to use the dispatch center.

Both those towns must operate their dispatch centers, otherwise the number of the calls they handle would overwhelm the county service, he said.

The service mostly benefits small towns, such as Kingston, which Coyle said do not want to pay for the improvements.

“If you are going to use the service, you should pay for it,” he said.