The Hernando County commissioners should pay attention to tonight's Brooksville Council meeting. If they do, they likely will see a group of elected officials that has the fiscal sense and political will to make a decision the countywide officerholders could not: consolidation of emergency dispatch and communication services.
The council is expected to approve a proposal tonight that dissolves the city's six-employee dispatch department and transfers that operation to the Sheriff's Office. Doing so through an interlocal agreement will save city taxpayers $204,000 the first year. That may not sound like a huge amount, but for a budget that has only $7-million in its general fund, it is a significant sum.
Two years ago, the County Commission entertained an offer by Sheriff Richard Nugent to absorb the dispatch staff of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District at the county's just-opened Emergency Operations Center in Brooksville. Doing so would have saved taxpayers almost $400,000, according to Nugent's staff. It also would have saved precious seconds on the time it takes to respond to an emergency because it would have eliminated the need to transfer calls.
The County Commission, however, decided that pleasing the fire commission and its employees was more expedient than securing a generous savings for a majority of its constituents or improving response times.
Such an expedient decision would not seem to be a viable option in Brooksville, where a majority of the council members already have expressed support of the proposal before them tonight. Unlike the County Commission in 2006, the council has the benefit of knowing it must find savings to offset the anticipated loss of revenue resulting from voters' property tax mandate, Amendment 1. Preliminary estimates put that loss of tax money at $400,000, so this single proposal for dispatch services should make up about half the deficit.
Jennene Norman-Vacha earns praise for putting together and following through with this proposal. It took several months and is indicative of the sharp-pencil approach she has employed since being appointed city manager early last year. She and police Chief George Turner, as well as Sheriff Nugent, also did right by the employees who will be displaced in this transfer of operational duties. Each was offered, although only one so far has accepted, an opportunity to work at the Sheriff's Office.
There is every reason to believe that this move, in addition to saving taxpayers money, will increase efficiency and provide a wider safety net for residents who call with an emergency. The council should not hesitate to give its final approval.