Commissioners Pat Zunz and Irwin Pastor called for other Longboat Key commissioners to discuss the town’s in-house 911 dispatch service Monday at the regular workshop. Commissioners blocked the call.
That means town staff will continue with the direction the commission gave in March, when it directed Town Manager Dave Bullock at its March workshop to abandon its in-house police dispatch service and dial up the 911 service the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office first offered more than two years ago.
At Monday’s workshop, Zunz took advantage of an agenda item seeking a $25,000 budget transfer to pay for additional overtime funding to pay Longboat Key police officers overtime to provide dispatch services. Discussions of turning over dispatch services to Sarasota County have depleted the department of dispatchers. As a result, the department has been paying police officers overtime when dispatchers are not available.
“I’m able to speak on this,” said Zunz, referring to an April 3 Florida Commission on Ethics ruling that confirmed Zunz can participate in future discussions about police dispatch. Three weeks earlier, Zunz sat silent during a regular workshop discussion about dispatch at the request of Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale because her son applied to be a Key dispatcher. That discussion led to a consensus for staff to move ahead with plans to transfer its in-house dispatch service to Sarasota County.
Zunz requested a separate workshop to discuss the dispatch situation further Monday.
“A lot of questions haven’t been answered,” Zunz said. “I would like to see this discussed again.”
Commissioner Irwin Pastor supported Zunz’s request, explaining that he has researched pros and cons of the town’s current dispatch system and its pending transition to Sarasota County.
“I don’t think we have all the information and all the answers yet,” Pastor said. “I feel very, very uncomfortable moving forward.”
The rest of the commission, though, immediately rejected the plea for a future discussion.
“I don’t have a lot of interest in spending more commission energy in revisiting this,” said Vice Mayor Terry Gans. “The town manager has lived with this for a number of years now and done his due diligence. We need to remember we agreed with the town manager’s recommendation.”
Other commissioners concurred.
The commission’s consensus came along with a caveat the town will have administrative staff employees in the police department building 24 hours a day in case residents want to call the department in the evening hours or stop by with a problem. That request eliminated a $293,600 savings that came along with eliminating five dispatch positions on the Key because the town needs to retain five employees to staff the station for both day and evening phone calls and visitors.
Town staff has been having back and forth discussions with Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office officials since 2013 on its offer to consolidate its 911 dispatch service. Sarasota County consolidated and updated its system in the 1990s.
But Manatee County, the town’s current dispatch provider, announced in September its transitioning to the NextGen 911 system, which will allow dispatch to handle digital technology. The news means that changes and the costs that go along with the upgrades are coming for both services.
Police Chief Pete Cumming supports sticking with Manatee County’s dispatch service, a move that would allow the department to keep its dispatch services on the Key. Cumming doesn’t believe his department can offer the same level of service it currently provides to residents if the town makes a switch to Sarasota dispatchers who know less about the geography of the island. But Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi, like Bullock, supports the switch to Sarasota County. Dezzi calls it a better option for firefighter/paramedics who would be using a system with protocols that the town’s current medical services director already uses in Sarasota County.
The annual cost of sticking with an upgraded Manatee County service is $495,039. The annual cost to consolidate with Sarasota County is $366,930. However, over the course of 10 years, the annual estimated cost for Sarasota County’s service is $168,420, compared with a $418,361 annual cost for the Manatee County service.
Zunz and Pastor, though, say money shouldn’t be a factor in the decision.
“This is déjà vu like Florida Power & Light Co. when we were making an undergrounding decision prematurely,” Pastor said. “What’s the rush?”
Zunz said there are serious problems with larger dispatch centers she wants to discuss further.
But the rest of the commission wasn’t convinced.
“We need to move on,” Younger said.
Town staff will bring forward an interlocal agreement in the coming months for the commission to approve the 911 dispatch switch to Sarasota County.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].