Thursday, June 20th, 2019

City will save with county dispatch

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Waukesha Freeman Thursday, 09/15/2016 Page A05 Opinion

City will save with county dispatch

Government control not more important than safety

The city of Waukesha is debating again the idea of letting the county handle the dispatch operations for police and firefighters. Once again we have a report, this time from an outside consultant, that recommends against the idea. Perhaps the city should hire a consultant to pick consultants.

The study by Deltawrx LLC points out, I kid you not, that if Waukesha County handles emergency dispatch services there would be a “reduction in influence, ownership and governance of the dispatch center.” Did any alderman need a study to understand that transferring a function from the city to the county will result in the city not controlling that function?

Despite the obviousness of this outcome, this is what Deltawrx uses as a key factor in the recommendation. The city could have spared the expense of hiring Deltawrx and just asked Police Chief Russell Jack his opinion. He would have told aldermen the same thing and then broke out a selection of his favorite Michael Jackson tunes, just like he did the last time the dispatch center was debated.

The study also worries quite a bit about the cost to the county. I’m sure Waukesha County ExecutivePaul Farrow is grateful for the concern, but the county is not going to enter into an agreement that is actually worse for county taxpayers in the city. It’s only in a footnote of the study does Deltawrx note that the estimated increase in taxes for county taxpayers is only hypothetical.

The study, however, does do city taxpayers a service by pointing out they would save $5,949,495 over 10 years. This despite the addition of personnel to the Waukesha Police Department, which the study was not even sure what they would do. “The majority of the duties that would be done by these positions are not quantifiable.” The report explains that the Police Department said they would be needed if they lost the dispatch center, so Deltawrx just threw that cost in.

It’s not until you get to Table 23 in the appendix that if the request for these new positions with undefined duties is reduced, city of Waukesha taxpayers could save $8.8 million over the next 10 years.

That’s a lot of money for a city that’s about to invest in major infrastructure. The city is considering building a new city hall as well as building that pipeline to Oak Creek for water. City taxpayers could use the relief.

The timing is good for making the jump to the county. The city needs to replace the dispatch system anyway. Why make a capital purchase the city can avoid if the service can be handled by someone else?

But more important, having the county handle the dispatch services is better for safety in the long term. Right now, whenever someone in the city uses a phone that isn’t the traditional house phone to call 911, the call goes to the county dispatch center anyway. After the county takes the information, then they transfer the call to the city. Deltawrx notes, “The transfer creates a significant time delay that prevents first responders from responding as quickly as possible.”

Photo from Wikimedia

The process of transferring the call, according to the report, takes an estimated 15 to 45 seconds. I can say from firsthand experience, listening to the county 911 operator explain the emergency to the city’s dispatch after I’ve already explained it once to the county makes the transfer of the call seem like an eternity.

In 2015, roughly 10,000 calls had to go through this delay. What the report doesn’t say is that number is only going to go up. More and more people are disconnecting from the traditional landline in the house and living with just their cellphones.

The report also notes that consolidating the dispatch services with the county will also ease mutual aid with other communities for emergency services, especially for local fire departments. Yet keeping dispatch services with the city will somehow keep us all safer because the city of Waukesha will be able to keep government control.

The report says that if the Waukesha County dispatch center continues to grow, “the city should re-investigate this option.” The county dispatch center is continuing to grow. New Berlin contracted with the county, and starting next February the city of Menomonee Falls will soon rely on the county dispatch center. It’s not only a matter of saving money, it’s a matter of safety.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.) 

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