The staff members at the Red River Regional Dispatch Center field more than 250,000 calls for service in a year. We call often when in need of public safety services involving law enforcement, fire protection and ambulances.
But we seldom think about the working environment of the staff of more than 40 who handle all of those calls, many of them emergencies.
We should give it more thought. More importantly, we should give it more suitable space.
The dispatch center has been housed at 300 NP Avenue for about 17 years. The demand for its services has grown along with the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.
The approximately 5,500-square feet of space has become inadequate. It also comes with safety concerns.
The center is located close to railroad tracks, which could make it vulnerable to a derailment. Luxury condominiums built upstairs after the dispatch make the electronic equipment that is vital to the center’s mission vulnerable to water damage if a pipe were to leak.
The space has served the needs of the metro area well for the better part of two decades. But officials have recognized that it’s simply no longer adequate.
The challenge, of course, has been to come up with the money for a replacement.
That problem now has a potential solution. Cass County could be eligible for about $35 million under the latest coronavirus pandemic relief legislation. Other local governments should help pay for a new center, with contributions commensurate to their share of calls.
Officials say they could have a shovel-ready project ready for construction soon. Local leaders have been studying the space problems at the dispatch center since at least 2019. A huge advantage of using relief funds to help build the center is that it takes pressure off local property taxes.
The dispatch center has a big job to do in keeping residents of Cass and Clay counties safe. The center covers an area of 2,810 square miles — more than the states of Rhode Island or Delaware.
It handles calls for seven police departments, two sheriff’s offices, three city fire departments, 29 rural volunteer fire departments, 15 emergency medical services providers and F-M Ambulance.
The joint dispatch center has been a great example of multiple local governments coming together to provide services more comprehensively and cost-effectively than they could by going it alone. It’s been a model of multijurisdictional cooperation.
We all pay for 9-1-1 operations through our monthly phone bills. But as taxpayers, we need to come together to provide better quarters for the regional dispatch center.
The problems with the existing space are well known. The need for more and better space is well known. The time now has come to tackle the problem.