The response time leaves something to be desired, but Pasco's public safety agencies are again investigating a merged emergency dispatch system. It's welcome news, even if it does come more than two years after a consultant recommended a combined 911 system for the county.
Merging city police and county Sheriff's Office and Fire Rescue dispatch operations was the top recommendation from a county-hired consultant who reviewed fire and ambulance service in 2010. Even if no cost savings is ever realized, the International City/County Management Association said this idea should move forward as a way to improve the qualify of service.
Consider the current operation. Dispatchers from the Sheriff's Office and Fire Rescue sit in the same building, separated by a partition. They answer to different bosses. If the emergency call to 911 requires a law officer, the Fire Rescue dispatcher must transfer the call to a person on the other side of the wall or to a local police department. Callers then must repeat their request for assistance.
The bouncing around diminishes emergency response time and increases the chance for a dropped call. Current statistics show an average of 41 dropped calls each month, though that also includes callers who hang up on their own. It's just a small percentage of the more than 6,900 calls that come to the dispatch center each month, but that is of little solace if the person calling is in an emergency or facing a life-threatening situation.
Multiple dispatch centers are a duplication of services and need to end, particularly in an era of shrinking revenues.
New Port Richey is so cash starved, its proposed budget calls for: laying off 15 employees; increasing the property tax rate; charging higher fees for streetlights and drainage; bare-bones support for special events; and possibly ending curbside pickup of yard debris. Not considering shared services with other governments would be foolhardy.
But, a suggestion last month from Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez to combine police dispatching services in that city drew little support from the rest of the City Commission. Her idea shouldn't be dismissed outright. Dade City, in particular, has realized the value of combined services. Facing a $1.4 million budget deficit nine years ago, the city dissolved its fire department and signed on with Pasco County Fire Rescue. Job losses were minimal. City firefighters simply became county employees.
Just months after Dade City's fire department disbanded, Port Richey voters turned down a referendum to merge its dispatch services with New Port Richey. Projected cost savings were irrelevant. Voters didn't trust city leadership and feared the dispatch merger was a precursor to folding the police department entirely. Such parochialism (and probably mistrust in some instances) still must be overcome for all local governments to participate and benefit.
Initial talks among departments in 2010 bogged down over questions about equipment capabilities and changes in command at some agencies. The Sheriff's Office, however, is poised to embark on upgrading its communications technology to become compatible with the county system.
It is an important step. So, too, is the enthusiasm for the project from Sheriff Chris Nocco. His predecessor showed little regard for the idea in 2010, calling the consultant's report a waste of money.
The idea of boosting government efficiency, enhancing public safety response time and eliminating redundancies should never be construed as a waste of money. The county sheriff, Fire Rescue and city police departments should embrace this opportunity to improve public service across the county.