Dispatch center debate: Butler County to cover $390,000 this year in new charges

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center on Princeton Road in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center on Princeton Road in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Several Butler County communities that have their own police departments but use the sheriff’s dispatch services caught a financial break when the county commissioners agreed to cover $390,370 in fees for this year.

Officials balked earlier this year when they were told they would start being billed for using the sheriff’s office to dispatch their police to emergencies. Some said it wasn’t fair, others said they weren’t given enough time to budget funds and some said they just can’t afford it.

The commissioners agreed to use CARES coronavirus relief money to pay the fees for six communities: Fairfield Twp. ($291,637), Ross Twp. ($75,780), Oxford Twp. ($34,650), New Miami ($47,541), Seven Mile ($5,763) and MetroParks ($6,999).

County Administrator Judi Boyko said since the dispatch fee revenues were budgeted for this year, and the sheriff’s office was adversely impacted by the pandemic, it was proper to reimburse the sheriff out of CARES money.

ExploreDebate on Butler County emergency dispatch fees continues today: What both sides are saying

“The sheriff’s office is providing the service to the political subdivisions in the greater county,” Boyko told the Journal-News. “So we thought it was in good faith to reimburse him for those costs he has incurred.”

Smaller entities like Morgan Twp. that use the sheriff to police their communities are not being asked to pay for dispatch fees.

Ross Twp. Trustee Board President Tom Willsey is still fuming over the issue even though they got a reprieve from billing this year.

“They are still targeting six agencies to pay dispatch fees and the other political entities in Butler County are not paying,” Willsey said. “A good case in point, using their figures we had 4,400 calls for service last year through their dispatch center. The Butler County sheriff had 52,000 calls for service, my portion is $75,000, well who paid for the 52,000 (calls).”

Fairfield, Middletown, Monroe, Trenton and West Chester Twp. have their own dispatch centers. Liberty Twp. pays the sheriff’s office about $3 million a year to have their own dedicated sheriff’s outpost and dispatch services are included.

Hamilton and Oxford have their own police departments but began paying around $1.15 million and $366,319 respectively for the service several years ago.

Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said these six entities have made a choice to provide enhanced police service to their communities and with that comes a cost. He said there is a difference between charging to dispatch other people’s employees and sending the sheriff’s own people out for emergencies.

“It’s a change in paradigm and anytime you do that people are resistant, and I understand that,” Dwyer said. “I got it for free forever, well that doesn’t mean you’ll continue to get it for free.”

He said the bigger complaint has been on how the fees have been calculated and he has adjusted that calculation from charging people based on budgets to actual expenses and on calls for service from the previous year.

Fairfield Twp. Police Chief Bob Chabali will get the biggest bill next year and he said he believes his trustees are willing to pay it.

“As long as it’s fair and equitable and there is an MOU (memorandum of understanding) we’ll be going forward,” Chabali said.

New Miami Mayor Stephanie Chandler said it was good to get a break this year.

“It’s great,” Chandler said. “It helps significantly, it gives us some time to figure out what we’re going to do... It definitely helps this year.”

Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott was the first to address the fairness issue when they ratified a dispatch contract with the sheriff in 2016. He said since this whole topic has become such an issue it has come to light his city is overpaying by about $100,000 — based on calculations Dwyer provided to everyone.

The city did receive a 3% contract reduction but it still doesn’t make up the overcharge. He said the city “may need to explore other options” since the county hasn’t agreed to amend the contract.

Dwyer said when the county took on Hamilton and Oxford they needed to add personnel and make substantial changes to the operation, so there were extra costs to those entities spread over time. That is why the numbers he distributed don’t match the actual contract costs.