Union County 9-1-1 Dispatch Center May Close After Budget Cuts

Union County in South Dakota is facing a tight budget next year, and that may mean cutting the local 9-1-1 dispatch center by outsourcing it elsewhere.

"Are you going to be able to look at that neighbor lady whose husband died because the ambulance couldn't get to him? Are you ever going to be able to look at her again and realize that had you not cut our local center that may not have happened?" asks Jaime Campbell, a current Union County dispatcher.

That's the question Jaime and other local dispatchers want answered, after county commissioners have proposed cuts for the 9-1-1 dispatch center.

The current $400,000 budget would be cut to $265,000, and that means the Sheriff's Office will either have to decrease the center's staff size or close it altogether and outsource it.

Locals say they want another alternative.

"Somebody calls 9-1-1 and they're at Rofenbaum Landing or they're at the Hanson Farm or, you know... Where is that? Is there a street address for that? Well the person calling 9-1-1 probably doesn't have the street address or geographical location, but I think many of the dispatchers that are working here are lifelong residents of Union County and their familiarity with the area is an intangible asset," says Union County resident Steve Nelson.

For many Union County dispatchers, their concern isn't budgetary; instead, they're worried about the decrease of public safety that may occur if this communication center closes.

"We live here, we know where those areas are. When somebody says they're out at the boat ramp at the state ground, we know exactly where that is because we've all been there," said Campbell.

Several first responders are also worried about the effects on response time if local dispatchers are gone.

"If I can get there much quicker as a trooper, it's saving time. It's also saving the state money because I can go there, I can handle that call, render that aid-whatever needs to be done. I can turn around and get right back on to the next call that much quicker," said South Dakota State Trooper Chris Holm.

Nine county employees would lose their jobs if the dispatch office closes.

The Sheriff hopes that a mutual solution could avoid those cuts.

A public hearing on this issue is set for September 3rd when commissioners meet to further discuss a solution.