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Operation costs skyrocket for city's dispatch system

Medford is stuck with higher costs for dispatching police and fire services after county agencies severed a cooperative agreement with the city.

The city's cost for operating its computer-aided dispatch system has doubled, increasing to approximately &

36;500,000, officials said. The Jackson County Sheriff's Department and Southern Oregon Regional Communications (SORC) previously shared the cost. But those two agencies recently bought their own system, which they say will save them money.

SORC took out a loan for &

36;957,000 over eight years to pay for the computer system, which will cost about &

36;135,000 a year, including interest, said SORC director Millie Tirapelle. The sheriff's department will save &

36;106,000 each year under the new contract while SORC will nearly break even on yearly costs.

City officials have said they don't believe that SORC can save money by purchasing a nearly identical system to one already in place.

They cite an estimate from county Finance Director Harvey Bragg that operating two systems will cost taxpayers an additional &

36;790,000 over 10 years.

— Those are moneys that are kind of a double charge to the rest of the Southern Oregon community, said Medford Mayor Lindsay Berryman.

To defray its costs, the city will lay off two full-time employees in the technology services department, saving about &

36;130,000 a year.

Tirapelle disputes Bragg's estimate, noting it was made two years ago and does not take into account the savings SORC will realize by running its own system. Sheand Sheriff Mike Winters said they are saving money because they will no longer pay overhead costs for city departments, expenses that are beyond the direct costs of the dispatching services.

We don't have to pay twice now, we just pay ourselves, Tirapelle said.

Although the City Council sent a letter to county commissioners asking for review of the new contract, the technology has already been purchased and is in place. Commissioner Dave Walker said there was no plan to revisit the issue.

There is and has always been a disagreement on how best to spend communication money between SORC and the city of Medford, Walker said.

SORC and the city have long disputed operating procedures, which led to the breakdown in negotiations for consolidating the county's two 9-1-1 dispatching centers in 2002.

The two agencies submitted separate consolidation plans to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, which selected SORC as the county's official answering point for 9-1-1 calls if consolidation moved forward. State budget difficulties subsequently stalled consolidation efforts.

A separate call-taking and dispatching center in Ashland closed earlier this year after Ashland signed a contract for those services with the city of Medford. But the city of Central Point is considering moving its service from Medford to SORC, which would save it about &

36;35,000 a year. Central Point's City Council is expected to sign that contract this week.

Managing its own computer-aided dispatching system with the capability to provide lap-top computers in police patrol cars allowed SORC to bid on Central Point's contract, Tirapelle said. Central Point's contract with Medford is due to expire at the end of June.

In addition to taking calls and dispatching for the cities of Central Point and Ashland, Medford's Central Communications provides services for the city's police and fire departments and the airport fire and rescue squad. Operating under an intergovernmental agreement, SORC is the sole dispatcher for 25 agencies, including the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, county fire districts and seven small city police departments.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail