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Sheriff wants to restructure communications center

May 15, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Sheriff Skip Hornecker hopes to restructure his office's communications center so agencies using it contribute more funding and have more say in running it. The changes could bring about some savings to the county's general fund.

On April 23, Hornecker told the Fremont County Commission that he wants to maintain the office's enterprise fund structure, meaning it operates like a business and charges for services.

The communications center provides dispatch services for the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, Lander Police Department, Town of Shoshoni Police Department, Fremont County Ambulance and Fremont County Fire Department. Riverton police and fire departments do not use the sheriff-operated communications center.

The sheriff's office manages the communications center, which is supported by the county's general fund and fees paid by Lander and Shoshoni police departments.

The sheriff wants to develop a formula to find an appropriate fee for all the entities that use it. He said the cost would be proportional in some way, by being based on something like the number of calls an agency receives or the size of the population it serves.

"We are strongly looking at calls for service as a way of assessing the cost for stakeholders," Hornecker said.

The communications center's budget is more than $900,000, Hornecker said, and he thinks the Lander Police Department pays close to $120,000 for dispatch services and the Shoshoni Police Department pays about $9,000. The remaining balance comes from the county's general fund, he said.

In its current configuration, the communications center is a separate budget under the sheriff along with the jail and his general budget. The communications budget receives money directly from the general fund.

If the center adopted a call-for-service formula for contributions, Hornecker said the sheriff's office would pay its proportional share.

The money would go from the general fund through his office's general budget before going to the communications center enterprise fund.

Commissioner Stephanie Kessler questioned how the restructure would bring money to the county.

Some involved parties, such as the sheriff's office, receive funding directly from the county. Routing the money through a different budget under the Sheriff would still draw the funds from the county's coffers in the end.

Other entities, however, have different sources of revenue.

"There are several of those users who are not attached to the county general fund, like the county fire district," Treasurer Scott Harnsberger said.

Money for the county fire district comes from other sources, so if some cost moved to it, the county's general fund would see savings.

If the adopted fee formula caused Lander and Shoshoni police departments to take on more cost, the county's burden would lessen, Hornecker said.

If those agencies ended up paying less, though, the general fund would have to contribute more.

In the end, Hornecker is hoping the restructure will bring more money to the communications center.

"It will help on an annual basis, getting salaries where they need to be, which are totally inadequate now, and helping with staffing," he said. "We're incurring some high-level risk by not having a third person in there (answering calls at the communications center) in addition to the two we have in there now."

Establishing a steering committee and a review committee to oversee the communications center also is a part of the sheriff's plan. His idea calls for every involved entity having representation on those committees.

"I'm certain they would be more accepting of paying more into the enterprise fund if they had more input into what we're doing," Hornecker said.