By Thomas Garcia
Local administrators are exploring a new gross receipts tax to pay a portion of the cost of Quay County’s emergency communications system, which includes 911 emergency response.
The system provides service for residents of Quay County and portions of San Miguel and Harding counties, as well as travelers on I-40 and U.S. 54.
The new tax would have to be approved by voters.
“We know the tax will not cover all of the cost,” said Doug Powers, manager City of Tucumcari. “Although it would go a long way to helping to maintain this vital service.”
Powers said last year’s operational budget for the dispatch was $354,198. Tucumcari and Quay County each pay 45 percent of these costs, at $159,389 each. Other communities, including Logan, San Jon and the other counties contribute the remaining 10 percent.
Next year, the budget is expected to be $370,000, according to county officials.
Powers said a gross receipts tax would reduce the percentage paid by the city and allow the communications center to hire another dispatcher, raise wages and provide a reserve fund for repairs.
Dispatch center money comes from the general fund, Richard Primrose, county manager, said, not a special fund. If voters support a one-quarter of one percent gross receipt tax, the money would be designated to cover a majority of the dispatch center’s annual budget.
Currently central dispatch is housed inside the Tucumcari Police Department, which places the burden of immediate maintenance costs on the city, Powers said.
Powers said the dispatch center receives oversight from the Tucumcari/Quay Regional Emergency Communication Board, made up of representatives from the agencies that use the system.
At one time, Primrose said, the city and county each had a dispatch center, but the state cut funding, making only enough available for just one 911 system in Quay County. The city and county responded by consolidating the dispatch center and creating the governing board.
Primrose said the state covers 911 system costs, but not the radio dispatch system, personnel or additional expenses.
Powers said even though the board meets once a month, the city handles expenses and unexpected problems that occur between meetings.
Recently an air-conditioning unit that cools critical 911 servers and radio equipment had to be repaired, Powers said.
“This is one of those instances where we can not wait for the board to meet to act,” Powers said, since cooling is necessary at all times to keep this equipment operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Jaynes said any a breakdown of any of the systems would generate enormous cost, if the equipment had to be replaced.
To keep the sensitive equipment running, Powers said, a window air-conditioning unit has been installed until a new, permanent air conditioner can be installed at cost projected to be up to $6,000.
Jaynes said dispatch personnel are currently looking into upgrading their record-keeping system to catalog the calls for services, citations and various activities recorded by the dispatchers. He said the existing system does not communicate with the record-keeping systems used by police officers and the courts. Data currently has to be reentered when agency personnel write reports.
The city is also responsible for the employment and supervision of dispatchers, who work four 10-hour shifts with three days off per week.
Jaynes said three times a day there should be two dispatchers in the office as shifts overlap, although normally there is only one dispatcher to receive and dispatch the calls to the agencies.
“The dispatchers we currently have are a very dedicated and skilled group whose job is anything but easy,” Jaynes said.
Jaynes said at any time, dispatchers could be monitoring fire units on scene at a grass fire, while responding to a traffic stop called in by an officer, and answering a 911 call or dealing with a person who has walked into the department asking to speak with an officer.
“I don’t think people are aware of just how much they actually do,” Powers said of the dispatchers.
Jaynes said there are 10 emergency fire, emergency medical and law enforcement frequencies that dispatchers monitor along with the 911 emergency system and the warrant files.
Currently the city employs six dispatchers. One has recently resigned, Powers said.
Jaynes said added funds from a special gross receipt tax would also allow pay raises and the hiring of additional dispatchers.
“Ideally we would like to employ eight dispatchers,” Jaynes said. “That would allow us to staff the dispatch center with more personnel during high radio traffic times.”