FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – Broward County Commissioners hope misdirected 911 calls and a lack of information sharing between emergency dispatchers will be a thing of the past after a narrow vote Tuesday paved the way for a regional 911 system in the county.
Commissioners agreed to pony up $43 million to fully fund the system countywide , with revenue coming from general funds and an increase in property taxes — about $21 for the average homesteaded property valued at $121,000.
Commissioner Lois Wexler spearheaded the plan. She said transition teams are in place to begin reducing the number of 911 dispatch centers from 9 to 3. She anticipates part of the system will be up and running by October and should be fully operational by sometime next spring.
“The passage of regionalized 911 funded and administered by county government will not only ultimately save lives but will also save millions of dollars a year through consolidation,” said Wexler.
In March, commissioners voted down a plan to put the system in motion. Commissioner Sue Gunzburger decided to change her vote.
“If every city were paying their full freight, I’d have no problem, but there are many cities that are not paying anything and they’re still receiving emergency services. They’re not going to join in, and by spreading the cost of 911 over all of the cities in Broward County, we’re talking about a small millage increase and I am looking to save lives,” said Gunzburger.
At the March meeting, Plantation residents Jim and Tina Ratcliff told commissioners about their experience with misdirected 911 calls. They described an emergency call they made while a man with some sort of weapon chased their car. The Ratcliff’s said there was called was bounced back and forth from Sunrise to Plantation emergency officials, costing police valuable time in responding to their call.
The Ratcliff’s know a thing or two about emergency calls — they spent a combined 60 years in law enforcement. Tina Ratcliff told CBS 4’s Carey Codd that the cost of revamping and upgrading the 911 system to avoid problems like she encountered is immaterial when it comes to public safety.
“I’m happy that (commissioners are) doing the responsible thing,” Tina Ratcliff said. “That 21 dollars will seem like a lot until you call 911 and then it will be worth a whole lot more. It’s well worth it.”
County officials believe that by consolidating 911 services the county will save $10 million dollars in the long run. They also believe it will increase response times countywide.
However, several commissioners felt the cost was simply too high.
“My vote will continue to be no, never against public safety though, but always against a complete travesty of the taxpayer dollars, and that’s why I can’t support it,” said Commissioner Chip LaMarca.