NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County inched closer toward overhauling its disjointed emergency dispatch system as commissioners on Tuesday directed administrators to come back with a consolidation proposal.
Commissioners got nods of interest from the heads of county and municipal law enforcement, and fire-rescue agencies to keep studying whether to consolidate the county and city systems — not exactly hearty endorsements, but commissioners were taking what they could get.
"I really believe it'd be folly on our part not to explore consolidation," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.
Consolidating the dispatch operations of Pasco Fire Rescue, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the municipalities was the top recommendation of a consultant's report released last month.
Elmer Holt, the county's 911 operations manager, said consolidating the system would take about two years and getting everybody trained and up to speed on the same policies could take another couple of years.
Sheriff Bob White said his office would need to double its radio capacity, to the tune of millions. "I think we really have to begin to look first at what level of commitment the county and the public are willing to make," he said.
County Administrator John Gallagher urged commissioners not to get too hung up on cost at this point. "Hopefully, by the time we get finished discussing these issues, we'll be able to lay out a plan," he said.
Pasco Fire Rescue is the primary answering point for 911 calls. Calls for police services are relayed to the Sheriff's Office dispatch, which occupies a space at the same west Pasco call center, on the other side of an office wall.
Most cell phone calls, even if they are made within cities, are first relayed to the county dispatch center. Calls from landlines within the cities typically go to the city dispatch centers.
Besides duplicating services, the patchwork system is vulnerable to dropped calls and time delays, the report said.
Commissioner Michael Cox had a personal experience in which he called 911 and gave his information, only to be transferred to the Sheriff's Office, where he had to repeat the information. He said the cost isn't the only issue.
"To me, a huge issue is public safety, and that's why we're here," he said.