Dispatch service could be phased out by July 1

by Nick Wognum

The future of the city of Ely dispatch service may become clearer after another meeting on the hot topic was held last Thursday.<BR><BR>With four council members in attendance, the Budget Committee reviewed numbers provided by Butch Pecha and Paul Kess on the costs of keeping the service.<BR><BR>After an hour of discussion, what became apparent was that the city can save money by not having the service. <BR><BR>And, with three open positions and three dispatchers plus a half-time position, the employees could be absorbed into other departments and there would be immediate savings to the city.<BR><BR>A plan will be developed to implement the phase-out of the dispatch service by July 1, assuming the issue is finally voted upon by the council.<BR><BR>With the retirements of Gary Klun as fire chief and Virginia Stankey in the library and the resignation of Samantha Hunter from the police department, the council could move three of the current dispatchers into those positions. <BR><BR>Darrin Kittleson is currently in line for the open police officer position and it’s apparent either Louis Gerzin, Jim Wagner and Cheryl Anderson could be made the new fire chief. <BR><BR>Whether the library position will remain or not is up for debate but the monies could be used to fund a position, possibly in public works.<BR><BR>And, city and EUC department head Ken Hegman said Thursday that there may be an opening in the utility department. <BR><BR>“We have an opportunity to take the dispatchers in now so nobody loses a job,” said Kess. “If we don’t do it now and we wait four years from now and eat up our reserves, we’ll have to lay five people off.”<BR><BR>The city is now looking at losing $70,000 per year in taconite aid from the state, creating a $280,000 hole in the budget within four years.<BR><BR>Kess handed out numbers that showed a $230,000 budget for dispatchers, with 90 percent of that cost in the police department budget. <BR><BR>He said a half-time position would have to be absorbed in the budget and that there would additional expenses for transitioning to 911 dispatch and calling out an additional officer to transport prisoners to Virginia or Duluth. <BR><BR>Those expenses would total $35,000 and coupled with a potential loss of $17,000 in revenue from the townships and city of Winton (since a portion of the dispatcher service is included in the fire contract) the total savings would be $178,000. <BR><BR>Council member Dan Przybylski pointed to increasing costs for health insurance for city employees. An increase of 15 percent is predicted for next year. <BR><BR>“We’ve got decreasing revenues and increasing expenditures,” said Kess. “We’ve got to do something.”<BR><BR>Anderson suggested eliminating all funding for economic development and closing the Community Center, combining the library with the one at the college.<BR><BR>The committee voted 3-0 (Kess, Przybylski and Mark Zupec) to recommend that any employees who are transferred to a different department maintain their current rate of pay.<BR><BR>Committee members were also filled in on negotiations that led to Anderson being paid an additional $5.07 per hour retroactive to Ja n.1 for taking over the fire chief’s duties.<BR><BR>Council members said they weren’t aware they were voting for that much of a pay increase.<BR><BR>“I assumed we were paying 80 percent of Gary Klun’s pay,” said Kess.<BR><BR>“It’s very rare to see this happen but it is a lesson learned,” said city clerk-treasurer John Tourville.<BR><BR>“After seeing this happen you should establish a policy,” said Wagner. “And, do you take the youngest guy and push him up?”<BR><BR>“For six months for Cheryl that’s $5,000. I missed that part,” said Kess.<BR><BR>“It leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” said Zupec. <BR><BR>