SYCAMORE – Larger police departments that rely on the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office for police dispatching have been subsidizing smaller ones for years, and say they want contributions to be more equitable.
The Sycamore Police Department and DeKalb County Communication Center commissioned a study last year into the center's operation and cost. The study showed that Sycamore and Genoa were paying a greater percentage of the costs than the call volume for which they were responsible. For example, in 2013 Sycamore contributed $610,500, but should have paid $599,330, if calculated by the number of police events handled, as the future budget plan aims to do.
"We're paying too much for a piece of the pie," Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas said.
While larger departments want what they consider a more equitable split, some of those smaller departments say if the cost of using dispatch service goes up, they'll have to look elsewhere for service.
The county provided dispatch services to the smaller communities for free until 2003, when it began charging them. However, call volumes and communities have grown since, and DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott says it's time for the smaller departments to take on more of the cost themselves.
In response to the study, the sheriff's office and county administrator Gary Hanson devised a seven-year plan to increase rates on the smaller communities' county police services, with the amount due each year through 2020 rising by 5 percent each year to cover an estimated rise in the cost of living.
Officials in smaller communities, such as Waterman and Hinckley, are unhappy with the proposed budget. At a county law and justice committee meeting on July 21, they said they cannot afford the future increases, and are considering looking elsewhere for services, such as a private company.
"It's not something we can do," Waterman Police Chief Chuck Breese said. "Small towns can't afford what they're doing. We're trying to find the best option for the village of Waterman and we're not going to limit our options."
To split costs evenly, each department's share would be determined by its number of calls for service to the communication center.
In 2013, Waterman was billed $16,719 for dispatch services, records show. The budget calls for Waterman to pay $18,638, 11 percent more, in 2014. By 2020, it is estimated Waterman would pay $63,211, or almost three times as much.
Last year, Waterman's bill for services was less than one percent of the communication center's $2.7 million operating cost, and Waterman accounted for almost two percent of calls for service.
"We put it as a phase-in plan so people could look at it and generate conversation about it and be able to plan," Scott said.
DeKalb County Board Chairman Jeff Metzger said with the change from the county paying for the small towns' services to the small towns paying the cost, there would be little to no effect on residents.
"It's shipping the funding around," Metzger said. "Individual towns would have to absorb more of the cost, but at this point there would be no additional cost to [residents]."
The study also found that DeKalb County telecommunicators are well-paid compared with other dispatchers, Sycamore's Chief Thomas said.
Deputy telecommunicators' salaries range from $43,643 to $60,715. In Kane County, dispatchers' salaries begin at $34,820, and Ogle County's begin at $35,248. Scott said DeKalb County's communication center employees are sworn officers rather than civilians, which means they have additional and different rights and responsibilities.
Breese said Waterman, along with the communities of Cortland, Kingston, Kirkland, Hinckley, Somonauk and Malta, had met multiple times to figure out how they would deal with paying for the services. At the end of the committee meeting, Metzger said the committee would take time to figure out how they could mediate or help with future discussions.
Breese said some communities are considering leaving the DeKalb County Communication Center's services. He said they are looking for another centralized dispatch or even a private company, as long as they would be saving more money than what is on the proposed budget. However, Scott doesn't think it would be in the communities' best interests.
"I don't have control over that," Scott said. "I don't think it'd be good for the community and I don't think they think it'd be good for the community. They're just looking at it as a financial benefit."
The city of DeKalb has had its own dispatch center for decades, due to the size of the city and the number of calls for service it handles, DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery said. Even though the police department moved into a larger building in the last year, Lowery doesn't think the department could take on calls for other municipalities.
"At present we don't believe we have that staffing that would allow for us to take on others," Lowery said.
DeKalb County Sheriff's Office communication center staffing:
21 deputy telecommunicators
Four sergeant shift supervisors
One lieutenant of communications (division commander)
Police agencies served by county communication center:
DeKalb County Sheriff