The Dukes County sheriff has terminated a longstanding memorandum of understanding with the county for an exchange of services that included partial funding of the Island’s 911 emergency communications center and summertime patrol of county-owned beaches.

The move by the sheriff leaves the county scrambling to patrol State Beach, Norton Point Beach and Eastville Beach for the coming summer. It also forced a substantial last-minute adjustment in the county budget to make up for the loss of a projected $165,000 in alarm fee revenue in the coming fiscal year.

The agreement to share fees from private alarm companies dates to a time when the center was a county department operated by the sheriff. The fees were originally established to offset the cost of emergency dispatch services by the communications center. The fees were paid by property owners, collected by private alarm companies and forwarded to the county. The state took over the sheriff’s department in 2010, but the county continued to collect alarm fees from private property owners.

Under the memorandum, the county retained 85 per cent of the revenue in exchange for providing the sheriff’s department with accounting services for several small administrative accounts. The sheriff’s office received 15 per cent of the alarm fee revenue and was responsible for operating the communications center, including paying all salaries and maintaining and upgrading communications technology.

The communications center dispatches emergency calls for all six Island towns, including police, fire, ambulance, and other calls.

The sheriff was also obligated under the agreement to provide daily patrol and law enforcement for State Beach, weekend patrols at Norton Point Beach and random checks of Eastville Beach.

Sheriff Robert Ogden, who was elected in November 2016, questioned why the county continued to collect the alarm fees when it no longer has responsibility for the communications center.

“That worked fine when we were under county control,” the sheriff said. “That money should have transfered over immediately.”

He said when he took office in January of 2017, he identified an annual deficit of $600,000 in the communications center which forced him to understaff the department. He said the total cost of operating the center is more than $1 million.

“We have to steal from Peter to pay Paul,” Sheriff Ogden told the Gazette in an interview. “We’re less served down at the jail and lockup or house of correction. We don’t buy equipment, we don’t build into the system because we can’t afford it. That deficit has created an inability to maintain and manage the system. All our money goes to trying to preserve our staff.”

He said the relatively small amount of money the sheriff’s department received from alarm fees under the memorandum of understanding with the county contributed to the annual operating deficit.

“When we started looking at the numbers, we started find ourselves in a place where we were actually losing money,” the sheriff said.

He said he has already taken steps to collect and retain all the alarm fee revenues, effective July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

“The money will come directly to us,” the sheriff said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be. We’ll create an account with state.”

While county officials agreed that the sheriff has a legal right to terminate the memorandum of understanding, the action did not sit well with them.

“It kind of puts the county in a hole,” said county commission chairman John Alley. “He wants all the bucks. It’s the wrong way to go about it if you’re a good neighbor. It affects other people in the county. I just think that’s wrong.”

But Sheriff Ogden said even with new revenue from alarm fees, he does not have enough funds to adequately operate the communications center.

The sheriff unsuccessfully petitioned Island towns this year for money to cover half the cost of the center, using a funding formula based on the number of emergency calls generated by each town.

The request was rejected at four annual town meetings. Voters and town leaders have said they want more information and some assurance of accountability.

“It was not a surprise,” Sheriff Ogden said of the outcome. “What I wanted to do was raise the public’s awareness of the system . . . the purpose was to identify these issues and make sure the public understood them.”

Mr. Ogden said he is applying for $3 million in state grants to pay for upgrades to the communications infrastructure over the next few years.

Meanwhile, county manager Martina Thornton said she is advertising for summer beach patrollers.