By Joan Murray

FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Broward County Commissioners voted against a plan Tuesday that would have used county tax dollars to pay for a regional 911 system.

However, commissioners agreed that a plan to streamline and centralize the 911 system is worthwhile. The problem is finding a way to pay for it.

Commissioners did vote 8-1 to allow leaders in Broward’s cities to decide if they want to raise taxes on their residents to pay for the system. It remains to be seen if cities would move forward with those plans.

The regional system would consolidate more than 10 emergency call centers throughout the county. It’s an idea being spearheaded by Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, who believes a new system would better serve residents and ultimately save the county money.

“Regionalizing 911 will facilitate closest unit response, address misdirected 911 calls and achieve better response times but failing will continue with chaos, cost precious minutes and cost lives,” said Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan.

On Tuesday the commission heard from representatives from several cities, including Hollywood and Tamarac, who said they supported the measure. A representative from Coral Springs said they would oppose the measure because it would involve the raising of property taxes in some cities.

Sunrise officials say the perfect example of why the 9-1-1 system should be consolidated occurred February 2 to a retired couple. Jim and Tina Ratcliff were driving out of a shopping plaza in Sunrise when they say a man who had words with Jim inside a store chased after them in his car.

Tina Ratcliff said the man drove up beside them while wielding some sort of weapon, honking and trying to catch them. When she called 9-1-1, she calmly described to the dispatcher that the man had struck their car with a golf club in Sunrise.

The dispatcher, however, was in Plantation and couldn’t figure out where the couple was. Ratcliff’s call was then transferred to Sunrise and Ratcliff had to start giving the information all over again.

Oficials say the call illustrates the problem with misdirected emergency calls and a lack of information sharing between emergency responders. The original dispatcher — who was from Plantation — couldn’t figure out where the couple was.

911 DISPATCHER: Ma’am are you in the city of Sunrise?
RATCLIFF: God darnit don’t you know where I’m at? I’m giving you the addresses!

Ratcliff’s call was transferred from Plantation back to Sunrise and back to Plantation again.

“I can’t believe that they wouldn’t have dispatched this and gotten some help to us by now. I’ve been on the phone for 4 minutes,” Ratcliff told the operator.

By this point, the man chasing the Ratcliffs backed off but they still couldn’t believe that no one had come to help them. The Ratcliff’s, who spent a combined 60 years in law enforcement, say it took at least 7 minutes before an officer responded.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Ratcliff said the issue isn’t about money but safety.

“I am here to plead not for funding, but for protection of the citizens of Broward County,” said Ratcliff.

Ryan says calling 911 from a cell phone leads to many calls being sent to the wrong agency because of the way cell towers route the call. He’d like to see 9-1-1 calls answered in centralized locations and information shared.

Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler supports the idea of a uniform system. One hitch, however, is how to make up for a gap in funding to provide three regional communications centers that would handle emergency calls countywide.

Wexler said it would cost an average of $22 per year on the average property tax bill. But residents in some cities that have dispatch centers; like Sunrise, Pembroke Pines and Coral Springs might not see an increase. Ryan says other cities that might not have been paying for 911 service that is provided by the Broward Sheriff’s Office might have to step up funding.

Sunrise said it agreed with the consolidation plan, but Plantation disagreed.

“Consolidation would jeopardize our Plantation Volunteer Fire Department as well as downgrade our international accreditation center,” said Plantation Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic.

However, Oakland Park Commissioner Suzanen Boisvenue — a proponent of a regional system — says it might be up to the voters of Broward to approve the system.

“Take it to the voters,” she said. “If they can’t make a decision here to save lives and do it in a timely manner then take it to the voters.”

Ryan said whether residents are paying their municipality or the county, they will have to pay for the service. He believes the county is best suited to provide 911 emergency services.


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