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Commission hangs up on dispatch discussion

A majority of commissioners have an answer to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s call for consolidation after two years on hold: Eliminate the Key’s police dispatch service.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 22, 2015
Longboat Key Marine Police Officer Shawn Nagell, a 15-year veteran of the police department, has been trained as a 911 dispatcher and is receiving overtime for taking on dispatch responsibilities.
Longboat Key Marine Police Officer Shawn Nagell, a 15-year veteran of the police department, has been trained as a 911 dispatcher and is receiving overtime for taking on dispatch responsibilities.
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Commissioners Pat Zunz and Irwin Pastor requested that other Longboat Key commissioners to discuss the town’s in-house 911 dispatch service Monday at the regular workshop. But a majority of commissioners blocked the call. 

That means town staff will continue with the direction the commission gave in March, when a majority agreed to abandon its in-house police dispatch service and use 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 for Longboat Key police officers to provide dispatch services. 

Uncertainty over the future of town dispatchers has led dispatch staff to seek other jobs. As a result, the department has been paying police officers overtime when dispatchers are not available.

Longboat Key Police Chief Cumming originally had an overtime budget line item of $20,000 when the 2014-15 fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2014. As of April 10, the account was overdrawn by $532.

Town Manager Dave Bullock received approval from the Town Commission Monday to transfer an additional $25,000 from the commission contingency fund to Cumming’s overtime fund, which he said is enough to pay officers overtime as dispatchers through the fiscal year’s end Sept. 30.

“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 in silence 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 consensus for consolidation.

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.

“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.”

The commission’s consensus in March came with a caveat the town will have administrative staff in the police department building 24 hours a day in case residents want to call the department during 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 day and evening phone calls and visitors.

Town staff has been in discussions with Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office officials since 2013 on its offer to consolidate the Key’s 911 dispatch service.

But Manatee County, the town’s current dispatch provider, announced in September it’s transitioning to the NextGen 911 system, which will allow dispatch to handle digital technology. The news means that changes and rising costs are in store for both services.

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 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. 

The annual cost of sticking with an upgraded Manatee County service is $495,039 for the first year compared with $366,930 if the town consolidates with Sarasota County. 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 later this year for the commission to approve a 911 dispatch agreement with Sarasota County.













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