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Morris Fire District approves dispatch agreement

Board gives unanimous approval, but asks for slight clarification

The Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District Board of Trustees has unanimously approved the intergovernmental agreement with the Emergency Telephone System Board for dispatch services, but with a slight clarification.

The board held a special meeting Thursday morning to discuss the agreement after expressing numerous concerns to the executive committee of the Grundy County Emergency Telephone System Board last week. The ETSB is the governing body of the soon-to-be combined Morris and Grundy County dispatchers.

Currently, the newly constructed dispatch center is operating, but the dispatchers are working as separate entities in the center. Morris’ dispatchers are still Morris employees, and Grundy dispatchers are the sheriff’s employees. With the new agreement, which is supposed to begin May 1, the ETSB and all of the county’s participating agencies would have an agreement for dispatch services from the dispatchers as one entity of the ETSB. The agencies will each pay a different amount for the services.

The Grundy County Board's issue with benefits for the dispatchers was recently settled with a change in the agreement, and now the ETSB is sending the agreement back to the remaining parties for approval. Because most had already approved the previous version, the ETSB was hoping to have quick approval this time and combine the dispatchers by May 1, but last week's meeting spurred concerns, mostly from the Morris fire district trustees.

Their concerns included the absence of a formula for how the costs per agency will be divided in the future (after the first agreement), and that it requires all equipment be returned to ETSB if they leave the dispatch system. The fire district wanted a date in the contract stating equipment given to such agency after the start of the agreement would have to be returned.

On Thursday, the fire board said they would sign the agreement, adding a clarification of the date being added. The concern is having to return radios, pagers and other equipment that the agencies have had and used for years prior to the agreement.

Fire trustee Mike Feeney said he believed the ETSB's concern with equipment is regarding infrastructure, not radios and pagers.


The fire trustee's larger concern was budgeting for the services. Morris fire will be responsible for $27,210.90, but the agreement does not have a cap on any overrun costs.

The fire district originally proposed a limit on how much an agency’s contribution can be increased, such as 3 percent. If there were a 10-percent overrun, Morris fire’s contribution could double, said Dave Bonomo, board president.

Grundy County and Morris are taking the bulk of the cost to allow for the other agencies to adjust to the new budget item. Morris and the county have always paid for dispatch costs and are prepared for it. The numbers per agency will change after three years. But the agreement states Grundy and Morris will not pay for any shortfalls in the agreement, but they are part of any surplus.  

Feeney told the trustees at the meeting last week that including a cap in the agreement could hurt them with future union negotiations with the dispatchers. If the agreement states there is room to increase their budget by a certain percentage, it is out there for the union to ask for that much of an increase.

Trustee Mark Jorstad said the district needs to prepare for the increased expenditure in its budget. He suggested increasing the ambulance levy to help defray the increased costs for 9-1-1 dispatch, because there is room there since the ambulance calls are higher. The trustees agreed and approved doing this, along with their action to sign the agreement.

Prior to the vote, Tracey Steffes, assistant fire chief, said he was asked to get in touch with WESCOM on how much it would be for it to provide Morris fire with dispatch service. Based on the district's amount of calls a year, the cost is estimated at about $100,000 to $105,000, Steffes said.

"But it's not a question of what (ETSB) is asking us to pay ... $28,000 is very, very, very reasonable," he said. "But, it's the open end when we try to budget for it."

The lack of a formula for future costs is a concern for 2014, when the current proposed contract ends and negotiations start again, Steffes added.

"In 2014, when it's negotiation time is more concerning," Feeney said. "Now to 2013, I don't see it escalating  ... I don't see it getting out of control in that short period of time."

He said last week Sheriff Terry Marketti reassured the executive committee that, if anything, the total expenses being split among the agencies will be lower than the proposal states. This is because one of the sheriff's dispatchers is going to be retiring soon. That dispatcher is not going to be replaced and makes $114,000 a year.

In addition to the retiree, with the combined dispatching, there is plenty of staff, Marketti said. Therefore, overtime is not expected to be high.

After the one retires, there will be 16 dispatchers, a director, and four part-timers, Bob Wills, assistant fire chief and dispatcher, said Thursday. Morris uses their part-timer to fill when someone is on vacation or out sick, but Morris dispatchers are not unionized as they will be when they're combined, said Wills. The ability to utilize the part-timers for vacations and sick time will depend on the union contract.


The trustees also asked about Coal City looking into using the sheriff's department for police services instead of having its own department. If it chooses to go forward with dissolving its police force, the concern is what that means for its $50,000 portion of the agreement?

Bonomo said he gathered from the executive committee that if Coal City signs the agreement, it would be responsible for its $50,000, even if it later dissolves its police department.

"In Coal City, it has to go to referendum," Chief Bob Coleman said. "It's not up to the mayor or the council. It has to go to referendum whether to keep the police department or not."

Jorstad added that proposing a referendum to village residents could not happen before it has to sign the dispatch agreement.

Coal City fire, Gardner fire, Grundy County and the city of Morris have already approved the agreement, Coleman said.

At the executive committee, it was confirmed the ETSB is in negotiations with Seneca to possibly provide it services, Coleman said. In addition, he said he is aware they are talking to other agencies as well.

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