The Longboat Key Town Commission remains wary of a proposal by Sarasota County to take over Longboat Key’s 911 dispatch services.
Town staff continues to analyze an offer extended to the town in March.
But the town, which has until the year 2015 to accept or decline the offer, faces a big decision.
“You will have to decide at the end of the day whether the offer and the level of service extended to the town by the county is an acceptable level of service for the community,” Town Manager Dave Bullock said to commissioners at their Dec. 11 regular workshop.
Commissioners aren’t sure the county will be able to match the town’s level of service. They said it’s a deal-breaker if the service can’t be matched.
Longboat Key’s Police Department prides itself on dispatching officers to calls that Bullock describes as “the snake in the toilet” cries for help.
The county doesn’t offer a level of service that dispatches officers to remove a snake from the house, get cats out of trees or help elderly women turn on their fuse boxes.
Although the county said it’s willing to dispatch officers for those calls if town staff provides a detailed list of what it expects, the commission is hesitant a larger agency can pull off the attention-to-detail service the town already provides with its officers and five in-house dispatchers.
With a license-plate camera recognition system now in place, the county would also need to work with the town to decide when to dispatch calls for license-plate violations.
“Our level of service is so darn good right now,” said Commissioner Jack Duncan. “To me, that’s the ultimate question. How do we know with confidence we won’t have any slippage there?”
Bullock and Assistant Town Manager Anne Ross explained they are working with the county to provide it with the town’s service expectations. But Bullock noted the county’s service probably won’t be identical.
“Cost, technology, personnel and level of service are the key considerations here,” Bullock said. “You’ll have a very interesting and hard decision to make.”
Mayor Jim Brown questioned whether the town’s level of service is too high, but Bullock said that will be up to the commission to decide when the town presents the county’s offer some time next year.
“We check on citizens at the request of family members and perform a lot of other calls,” Bullock said. “You’ll have to decide if it’s an acceptable level of service for the community.”
Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming, meanwhile, is also hesitant to switch his dispatch service to the county.
In November, Cumming told the Longboat Observer: “From the beginning to where this ends up, I’m going to act like our dispatch is going to be here forever because it has the level of service we want for the town.
We’ll keep getting better all the time. I’m hoping the dispatch service never goes away out here.”
Cumming also allowed the department to obtain a public safety telecommunication certification training system last month, which took six months to obtain.
Sarasota County extended the dispatch service offer to the town, as well as North Port and Venice.
They’re the only three municipalities for which the county doesn’t provide service, and county staff felt obligated to extend the offer, Bullock said.
Currently, landline 911 calls Key-wide are routed to Manatee County, which then routes the calls to Longboat Key dispatchers. Most cellular calls are also routed that way, although a Sarasota County dispatch tower, which also routes the calls to the town’s dispatchers, picks up some cellular calls on the south end of the Key.
It will cost the town money to buy new county-compatible equipment and invest in a new data interface system, although a cost savings overall is expected if the county takes over the service. The cost savings is not known at this time.
The county is opening a new Sarasota County Emergency Operations Center in 2015, which gives the town time for its fire department radio compatibility issues to be worked out with the county’s new system.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]