At first it looked like a typical county-sheriff dust-up — this one with a mere $6,500 price tag.
Pasco Emergency Services Chief Anthony Lopinto told county administrators last Friday that Sheriff Bob White would not pony up his half of a $13,000 tab to link the two agencies' computer-aided dispatch systems.
Getting the two electronic systems to "talk" to each other is the first step toward the County Commission's goal of improving a patchwork 911 operation that is vulnerable to dropped calls and time delays.
"This is problematic because even if we paid his share … he has to be a player for the initiative to work," Lopinto wrote in an e-mail to administrators last week.
On Wednesday, White told the Times that Lopinto was making "a flap out of nothing." He said he had long pushed for the two agencies to use the same system, but that it was the county's decision a few years ago to do its own thing, back when fire rescue needed computer upgrades that the sheriff wasn't ready for.
"They moved away and went out and bought their own system. Then they want us to pay to bring them back," White said. "I guess our staff said 'Why should we pay when you left?' "
By Thursday, after the Times spoke with commissioners and at least one commissioner spoke with the sheriff, White called back.
He said he wasn't going to just pay his half; he was going to foot the whole $13,000 bill.
"We need to get it done," he said. "We're not going to lollygag."
No doubt that'll be a good sign to county officials, who had said they were concerned that the funding issue had meant White did not support consolidation.
"You have to have buy-in," Lopinto said Wednesday. "You have to have the participation after you invest the money. If they won't accept that, there's no sense spending the money."
Back in May, commissioners directed county administrators to come back with a consolidation proposal after a consultant recommended it.
Pasco Fire Rescue is the primary answering point for 911 calls. Calls for police services are transferred 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 land lines within the cities typically go to the city dispatch centers.
Commissioner Michael Cox, who has been one of the most outspoken advocates for the dispatch consolidation, said he didn't care where the money for the first step comes from as long as the work gets done.
"I am committed to having one dispatch system so that when the people of Pasco call 911, they get help," he said, "and they aren't transferred across the world, or the room."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.