It’s been 15 months since Sarasota County offered to take over Longboat Key’s 911-dispatch services, but the offer is still on hold.
At the Longboat Key Town Commission’s regular workshop Monday at Town Hall, Assistant Manager Anne Ross told commissioners they don’t have to make a decision until the fall, after the town provides more information for their consideration. If the town takes the county up on its offer, nothing will be implemented until fall 2016 or spring 2017, at the earliest.
The county, though, expects to work closely with the town this fall and is seeking a commitment soon.
Commissioners aren’t sure the county will be able to match the town’s level of service and have made it known it will be a deal-breaker if the county can’t offer the same service level.
Longboat Key’s Police Department prides itself on dispatching officers to calls that Town Manager Dave Bullock calls “snake in the toilet” cries for help.
Just a few weeks ago, Key resident Ronald Platt praised police in an email to commissioners for assisting him with removing a small, but possibly poisonous, snake from his garage.
The county doesn’t offer the type of service that sends 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 list of its expectations, the commission is doubtful a larger agency can pull off the attention-to-detail service the town already provides with its officers and five in-house dispatchers.
The county has no experience with dispatching calls for a license-plate camera recognition system like the town has in place, so those details must also be worked out.
Bullock has warned the level of service the county provides won’t be identical, and commissioners are curious what kind of level service the county can offer.
Sarasota County also offered its service to North Port and Venice, which are the only two other municipalities that don’t currently use county dispatch services.
North Port is also still reviewing the offer, while Venice is undergoing the process of transitioning to the county’s service now.
The commission, meanwhile, learned earlier at its budget workshop that Manatee County will change 911 call-taking and dispatch service in 2015 to new equipment that allows texts, video and other ways of calling 911.
Because the town currently uses Manatee County’s services to transfer 911 calls to its police department, this requires new equipment for the Longboat Key Police Department.
Staff estimates it will cost $100,000 to upgrade to the new 911 service, and it’s still undetermined who will pay for that service.
Currently, Manatee County receives 75% of its calls from cellphones and 25% from landlines. The county currently transfers 911 calls it receives to the Key’s dispatch officers.
To prepare for the change, the town has three options:
It could have Key dispatchers receiving data files instead of phone calls; place town dispatchers in the Manatee County dispatch center; or continue operating the same way without upgrading.
The town only learned of the system change June 12, and has not had the opportunity to pursue grants.
Vice Mayor Jack Duncan expressed frustration the town only learned about the upgrade last week.
“This gets thrown in our lap without any communication,” Duncan said. “I think my frustration gets directed at the Manatee County Commission.”
Bullock said the town will always be reliant on one of the two counties for its 911 dispatch services.
The commission will discuss the issue further at budget workshops this summer.
Before commissioners decide on Sarasota County’s offer to take over 911 dispatch services, town staff must answer the following questions:
• What’s the level of service Sarasota County is able to offer town residents?
• What’s it going to cost and how much money can the town save?
• What kind of radio communication and computer-aided dispatch services are needed to make the switch and how much will it cost?
• What will happen to the town’s 911 dispatch officers? Will jobs be available for them at Sarasota County?
Path of a 911 call from Longboat Key
The call goes to the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center, where a dispatcher asks about the nature of the emergency and the caller’s location.
The call goes to either the Sarasota or Manatee County Emergency Communications Center, depending on the person’s location and the location of the closest cellular tower.
If the call pertains to a police emergency, the county dispatcher routes the call to Longboat Key within seconds. Two Longboat Key dispatchers are on duty at any given time and handle police calls while also constantly monitoring fire/rescue calls online with Manatee County dispatchers.
If Sarasota County answers the call and it pertains to a fire or medical emergency, the dispatcher routes the call to Manatee County. If Manatee County answers the call, the dispatcher continues to handle the call.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]