FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – A major change could be coming to the way 911 calls are handled in Broward County and proponents say it could mean better, quicker emergency dispatch service for county residents.
Under one proposal shown to CBS4, it could also mean some cities may be asked to pay a hefty price tag to make it happen.
The change is being contemplated for two main reasons. First, county leaders believe consolidating 911 dispatch centers spread throughout the county would provide better response times and improve closest unit response to high priority incidents. Right now, there are a dozen dispatch centers in Broward County.
Second, there is a question of equity between cities that fund their own dispatch centers and cities that receive dispatch service from the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Some of the cities that may be impacted are Davie, Hallandale Beach, Lauderhill and Miramar, all of which receive 911 dispatch service from BSO.
Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry wrote in a letter to city managers earlier this year that cities which do not pay for 911 dispatch service would be asked to.
“Irrespective of whether or not the consolidated model is adopted, the cities which receive dispatch services from BSO are to be charged a fee for service beginning October 1, 2011,” she wrote in a letter dated January 25.
The October 1 deadline will pass without cities being charged, as a plan is still being developed. Henry told CBS4 News that nothing has been finalized as far as funding a possible consolidation plan.
“For those municipalities (with dispatch centers), they could potentially save some money,” Henry said. “For those municipalities who have not paid in the past, could see themselves with a bill.”
In the letter Henry sent to Broward County cities, she estimated that a consolidated 911 dispatch operation could save the county $7.7 million. Henry’s plan is to set up three regional centers to handle all the 911 calls received in the county. The advantage of this plan, Henry says, is it would allow all first responders to communicate quickly and easily. Also, the calls would be handled in the area of need, cutting down on any delay in responding to an emergency.
“Any delay, any time the call has to be sent from one location to another you could possibly create some inherent delays in the response,” Henry said.
One of the issues to be worked out is funding the system. One idea being discussed is charging cities based on how many 911 calls BSO handles for each city or town. In one estimate that was sent to area cities, that could leave towns like Davie with an annual bill of $1.9 million. Under this option, the city of Hallandale Beach could see a bill of nearly $1.3 million per year.
That doesn’t sit well with Hallandale Beach Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan. He’s in favor of consolidating dispatch centers to provide better, more efficient service to city and county residents but he’s not in favor of the aforementioned funding proposal.
“It clearly would create a burden on us,” Sullivan told CBS 4’s Carey Codd. “It’s not money that we had planned to spend. It’s not money that we had budgeted for.”
Sullivan says that in 1991 Hallandale Beach made an agreement with Broward County to hand over radio frequencies in exchange for dispatch service. He says the county should honor that agreement.
Sullivan says the county should increase property taxes for all residents if funding is a concern.
“It’s the city of Hallandale Beach’s position that that common funding source would be best served through the county’s (property) tax dollars,” Sullivan said. “There would be a net savings if everybody got involved with a common system.”
The city of Sunrise estimates that it costs $2.7 million annually to fund its’ dispatch center. Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan is a proponent of consolidation, believing that a common system could save taxpayers as much as $100 million dollars over 10 years in operating and capital costs.
“We can find a way to do this,” said Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, who also chairs the Public Safety Committee for the Broward League of Cities. “This funding issue is gonna get worked out.”
Ryan plans to present a proposal on the issue to the Board of Broward County Commissioners in October.
He said there is momentum for a change to the system and cited two recent resolutions in favor of consolidated dispatch — one from the Public Safety Committee of the Broward County League of Cities and the other from the City Managers of Broward County.