City tried to work with county, mayor says

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During Monday’s regular meeting of the Socorro City Council, the mayor strongly emphasized the city tried to work out an agreement with the county to perform dispatch services for the county sheriff’s department.

During the mayor’s report, Mayor Ravi Bhasker strongly objected to any implication the city was not cooperative with the county on the issue of 911 dispatch services. An article published in the March 15 issue of the Chieftain reported county staff said the city was not interested in providing dispatch services for the county.

“We were cooperative,” Bhasker said. “We had everything nailed down. There was a question of costs and liability. And we actually had a memorandum put together, and then I come to find out in the newspaper that they paid $30,000 to the state police to do their dispatch.”

The Socorro County Commission, during its regular meeting March 12, approved an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety for emergency dispatch services to be provided through New Mexico State Police District 11 for $33,000 per year.

Bhasker said the city wanted the county to help cover the costs of more dispatch personnel to accommodate a higher volume of calls. He said they also needed to work out the question of liability for city police.

“Because, unlike the state police, we can’t make calls that the sheriff makes outside city limits,” Bhasker said.

Bhasker explained the city wanted some assurance that it would not be held liable for a situation where a deputy didn’t respond to a call outside city limits.

“We wanted some sort of reassurance that the city would not be held liable for somebody calling from Veguita and saying, ‘Hey, I called your dispatch. How come you didn’t get a police officer out here? We’re having a terrible time with somebody,’” Bhasker said.

Bhasker said there were no assurances the city wouldn’t be held responsible in such a case, and that was the “sticking point” in the conversation between the county and city about dispatch services.

City Clerk Pat Salome said in other places, dispatch is separate from police agencies and is not run by them. In Valencia County, for instance, emergency dispatch is a separate entity from any agency, and dispatches all calls for any emergency responders needed anywhere in the county. He said Socorro is somewhat unique in having dispatch run out of the police department.

Bhasker said the city meet with the county about dispatch and was working on a memorandum of understanding.

“I can only tell you that we’re not that heartless … There was some little tweaking we needed to do,” Bhasker said. “Maybe it would have cost $30,000 — it might have even cost less. I don’t know that, but that’s where we were on that — just to clarify the situation.”

Salome said during an interview Tuesday that if the city were to provide services outside city limits, then all the taxpayers who benefit from the services should contribute, not just city residents. He said it wasn’t a question of whether the city was willing to provide dispatch services, but how to work out the specifics of an agreement.

Salome said the county has never had its own dispatch services, and over the past year or so the state had been considering making a change that could have interrupted NMSP District 11′s ability to provide the services for the county.

“I guess the state changed their position and they’re going to continue to dispatch for the county,” Salome said.

Salome said he thought the dispatch discussion was going well between the city and county, but the discussion was under the premise that NMSP would not be doing the county’s dispatch anymore.

Salome said any government — whether city, county, state or federal — can only support services to the people who pay taxes for those services. He said a government entity can’t go too far beyond its boundaries without causing harm to its constituents who are paying its taxes. He said anytime more labor and duties are added, the cost of providing that service goes up.

Salome said the county and city had talked a little bit about creating a central dispatch system — similar to dispatch in Valencia County — that would be independent of any particular agency but dispatch for all local agencies.

“But you know, that’s a pretty big undertaking financially,” Salome said.

Salome said the important thing is that everyone has 911 access, but it has to be funded fairly for all taxpayers. He said it was good for the county that they were able to work dispatch out with state police. He noted it may be the least expensive way to have the whole county served, since NMSP Distric 11 already covers the entire county and then some. For the city to provide dispatch services, they would have to expand their area and hire more people.

“It pretty much doubles our population if we go countywide,” Salome said.