City denied CARES funds

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

Purchased in 2005, the dispatch equipment used at the Weston County Law Enforcement Dispatch Center is outdated, if not completely obsolete, according to documents submitted by the city to the State Loan and Investment Board. The documents were submitted by the city through COVID-19 relief grant funding provided through the CARES Act to be used for purchasing new dispatch equipment. 

Gilbert Nelson, Weston County’s emergency management coordinator, reported that Newcastle asked for $225,179 and Weston County requested $475,000, for a total of $700,179. Both requests were denied.

Newcastle Police Chief Sam Keller said the city is exploring other options for replacing the equipment. Nelson agreed that the equipment, especially radios, needs to be replaced, regardless of funding. 

“They (radios) are dying and keep going down.  This is a life-safety issue for officers and the community,” Nelson said. “This is equipment that isn’t going to be compatible soon. We have to find a way.” 

“In fact, the current system is so obsolete that the benefits of a new system are so numerous that we can’t list them all, but the ability to control the spread of COVID while still doing the necessary work for the community is the most important factor,” the CARES Act funding narrative says. “Some of the benefits that will directly help our county battle the current pandemic and keep our community and our first responders safe from COVID-19 would be, mobile systems that would allow the law enforcement to do all of their administrative, emergency services and agency assists without having to come back into a squad room and possibly expose the entire office including other officers, dispatchers, detention officers and office staff.” 

It notes that the spread of the disease at the office could have devastating results, including higher costs for overtime for staffing in potentially multiple departments, fatigue, mental fatigue, and additional stress. 

“One exposure from a single officer or deputy on a swing shift would compromise the entire law enforcement center including dispatch, officers, deputies, IT staff, and detention officers,” the document continues. “The new system would reduce the exposure to all first responders and the community by allowing the majority of law enforcement in the field and on call to perform their duties and administrative responsibilities independently.” 

The narrative noted that the center dispatches for the Weston County Sheriff’s Department, the Newcastle Police Department, the Upton Police Department, the Weston County Fire District, Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department, Newcastle Ambulance Service and Upton Volunteer Fire and EMS. 

This new system referred to in the application is the Spillman-Flex system, which is used by law enforcement centers across the state. With the use of mobile units, the jobs of officers and deputies would be safer, more efficient and offer protection to them and the community from unintentional exposure to COVID-19, according to the document. 

As emergency personnel continue to look for alternative funding sources, Nelson said, he believes the city was denied due to the number of funding requests received by the state. 

“I sat there (in Cheyenne) from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon waiting for my turn to argue our application. They never got down that far on the list. I don’t think they had the time to even read all the applications — there were just so many,” Nelson said. “I think we fell victim to circumstance.” 

Nelson said that a lot of other projects on the no-fund list were also valid and legitimate needs related to COVID-19 and community response. 

“When you have applications that are funding personal protective equipment and HVAC, and then you look at a dispatch application, it doesn’t sound COVID-19-related in comparison,” Nelson said. “I think it really came down to the time the SLIB board had in reviewing the applications.” 

“We never even had the chance to justify the need. I feel if we had the opportunity to explain the situation, then we would have received the funding,” Nelson added. “Now we are at the point that we have to come up with something else.”

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