The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has been on hold since it made an offer to the town to take over its emergency dispatch services in February 2013.
The city of Venice accepted the same offer from the Sheriff’s Office, while the city of North Port rejected the offer.
In November, town staff will make a presentation to the Longboat Key Town Commission to discuss the offer further.
But there’s a complicating factor.
Manatee County announced Sept. 30 that it will implement a new Next Gen 911 Internet Protocol (IP) system. The town is still determining the impacts of Manatee County’s upgrades, including how much it will cost. At press time Tuesday evening, Manatee County’s new E-911 Committee, for which Commissioner Phill Younger is the town’s representative, was meeting to discuss the upgrade.
“Before we were comparing the Sarasota offer to the existing service,” said Town Manager Dave Bullock during an Oct. 6 joint meeting between the Longboat and Sarasota County commissions. “The existing service is not going to be the same as it was in the past, so we’re scrambling to understand what Manatee is going to do and what it means to us.”
An April report by public safety consulting firm L.R. Kimball on the equipment Manatee County uses determined that the current system was built on a core infrastructure that is unable to support new technologies such as texting, video messaging, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and telematics.
Currently, Manatee County dispatches Longboat Key’s fire rescue calls, while the town’s five dispatchers handle police calls. If the town accepts Sarasota County’s offer, the county would dispatch both fire rescue and police calls.
At the Oct. 6 joint meeting, Bullock described it as “not the most efficient system out there,” describing how calls bounce between agencies, but explained the town’s dilemma.
“That’s a gift in one sense in that you get a very reliable communications center with lots of call takers and a lot of depth in the dispatch side,” Bullock said. “But it’s also a concern for us because our dispatchers have an average of 10 years of service. They know everything there is to know about little old Longboat Key.”
Bullock hopes to know more about Manatee County’s upgrade before staff makes its November presentation to the commission. He said the town doesn’t know enough about the plan to determine whether it will impact the town’s response to Sarasota County’s offer.
Cost savings from accepting Sarasota County’s offer could range from $150,000 to $250,000 per year, although both systems would require “significant expenditures” for new radios or upgrades to existing radios, according to Bullock. He said the town has not yet determined whether its dispatchers would transfer to Sarasota County if the town consolidates its system.
Commissioners have expressed concern that Sarasota County wouldn’t provide the level of service Key residents expect from police, who frequently respond to what Bullock refers to as “snakes in a toilet” calls. The county has said it will dispatch such calls if the town provides a detailed list of what it expects.
“I guess the question is, do we really need that type of service?” Mayor Jim Brown told the Longboat Observer.
Click here to view the path of a 911 call from Longboat Key.