In Hernando County, Sheriff Richard Nugent oversees the county's emergency management department and the dispatching operations for the city of Brooksville and the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District. At the time of the consolidations, the cost savings were projected at hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for the agencies involved.
In Pasco County, dispatchers for the Sheriff's Office and the Fire Rescue sit in the same building but are 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 to a new voice at the end of the line.
The ridiculous duplication of services must end. The multiple dispatch call centers increase the chance for a dropped call during transfers, adds to emergency response times and burdens the public with financing an inefficiency at a time of reduced services elsewhere because of shrinking government resources.
Combing city police and county Sheriff's Office and Fire Rescue dispatch operations is the top recommendation from the International City/County Management Association, which just finished a review of the Pasco fire and ambulance service. Even without a cost savings, the consultants said, the merger should take place to better serve the public.
Granted, there are political and emotional hurdles to overcome. This is, after all, a county where city residents complained about renumbering and renaming their streets when the 911 system came into place in the late 1980s. But the parties involved also must check their egos at the door and work toward a public benefit. That hasn't been the case in the past.
Port Richey voters turned down a referendum to merge its dispatch services with the city of New Port Richey in 2004. Not because the cost savings — estimated at $90,000 — at the time, were considered insignificant, but because of a distrust toward the city leadership that the merger was simply a first step toward folding the municipal police department. Likewise, 2007 County Commission suggestions that Sheriff Bob White consider shared fleet management and human resource duties with county government went nowhere.
Pasco County is poised to ask four city police departments, the sheriff and its own Fire Rescue staff to meet with the county-hired consultant to try to lay the groundwork for a merging of the dispatching operations. Who runs the operation can be settled later. Who benefits from such an operation is already known.
The agencies should embrace this opportunity to boost government efficiency. Failing at new efforts to better public service because of old turf battles is unacceptable.