Hopkins has become the latest Minneapolis suburb to seek help for the increasingly expensive job of answering 911 emergency calls.
City officials have approached Hennepin County about taking over dispatching for the city in 2013. The city estimates it could save $300,000 a year by giving up its independent dispatch service.
Though the county has a moratorium on adding new cities to its dispatch system through November, Hopkins Police Chief Mike Reynolds said county Sheriff Rich Stanek said he will take the city on if county commissioners agree.
"We are the smallest agency in the metro area to have its own dispatch, and the second-smallest in the state," Reynolds said. "We've had some financial issues recently due to the economic downturn, and we need to upgrade ever-changing technology."
County Commissioner Jan Callison, whose district includes Hopkins, said she will carry Hopkins' request forward to the County Board. "We're doing a study looking at dispatch generally now, related to the new dispatch facility" that will open in Plymouth in 2014, she said. "I'm hoping that Hopkins will move that discussion on."
Reynolds estimated that joining the county system would cut Hopkins' cost per 911 call from $3.99 to 17 cents.
The city system faces pressing technological issues that are pushing Hopkins' search for a new dispatch partner. In April, a service agreement with CenturyLink to maintain the city's analog service ends. The system is so dated, Reynolds said, "that they couldn't promise us the parts" if repairs are needed.
The city system needs $69,000 in updates this year, with more than $570,000 in technology costs forecast in 2018.
"Things are not looking well.... I think it will be more than that," Reynolds said. "That is a huge consideration for us."
Six dispatchers work for the city. Reynolds said he hopes those jobs could be absorbed by the county or that some workers could be reassigned within the police department. "I don't want anyone to lose their job," he said.
In 2010, after the county turned down its request for dispatch help, Golden Valley ended its longstanding dispatch agreement with St. Louis Park and went with Edina instead, partly to save money. Hopkins also investigated getting dispatch services from nearby cities, Reynolds said.
But he said he believes it would be cheaper to get 911 service from the county. While cities that receive dispatch services from the county now don't pay directly for that service, which is supported by property taxes paid by every county household, that could change in the future. Callison said among the questions the County Board is examining as it prepares for the new dispatch center is whether cities should be directly charged for that service.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan