By Doug Ireland
---- — Some Southern New Hampshire towns are concerned they will have to pay thousands of dollars each year to continue using the county's dispatch center.
Rockingham County towns recently learned they may have to pay $1 per resident for police dispatch services and 50 cents per person for fire dispatch services, angering community leaders. Towns using both services would pay $1.25 per resident.
The money is needed to upgrade and maintain the county dispatch center in Brentwood — a project expected to cost close to $500,000, Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing said.
It's hoped federal grant money would fund half the cost, he said. An initial estimate put the cost at roughly $950,000. The dispatch console is 14 years old, Downing said.
"This particular model isn't being supported anymore by the manufacturer," he said. "Getting parts is very difficult."
Communities that have their own dispatch centers, such as Derry and Londonderry, won't be affected.
But officials in small towns that use the county service would have to pay up, according to County Commissioner Thomas Tombarello of Sandown. The service has traditionally been funded through the county tax.
"We knew we didn't have the money to do the repairs on that dispatch center," he said. "It is something we need to do."
Tombarello said Downing informed the commissioners in January that the center needed major improvements. Three weeks ago, Downing met with police and fire chiefs to discuss the proposed fees.
Several dozen chiefs, other town officials and state legislators then met with the commissioners June 19 — and they weren't happy, Tombarello said.
"They think it's unfair for us to do that," he said. "We didn't anticipate (the meeting) to be as negative as it was."
Tombarello, who is also a Sandown selectmen, said his own town would have to pay an extra $6,000 a year to the county.
One of the most outspoken critics of the plan is Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston.
He said Kingston would have to pay roughly $9,500 more to the county and Hampstead, which only uses the police dispatch, would have to pay about $6,500.
That far exceeds what the small towns receive in county services, Weyler said.
"All of these towns are saying we pay half a million dollars in taxes and what do we get for it?" he said. "It just doesn't seem like a good idea."
Weyler said all Rockingham County towns use the county dispatch — even towns with their own, so they must all foot the bill.
Since many of the county's court cases come from large towns such as Derry, Londonderry and Salem, those communities should pay extra fees for each person prosecuted, he said.
Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Derry said large towns with dispatch centers shouldn't have to fund dispatch services for the small towns. Derry, which spends close to $2 million annually on dispatch services, is too large to rely on the county center, he said
"It just makes sense that the big towns shouldn't have to subsidize the little towns," he said.
Danville Selectmen's Chairman Shawn O'Neil disagrees. He said all towns should share the cost.
"There are a lot of things in state government that I pay for and don't use," he said. "I would understand an increase to our county taxes to support it."
He said any fee should be based on a town's tax base, use of the center and population.
The fees would have to be approved by the three county commissioners. The proposal is still under review, commissioners said.