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Saturday, Aug 02, 2014
Pasco Tribune

New Port Richey considers 911 services consolidation

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NEW PORT RICHEY -

Dispatchers from New Port Richey police and fire departments would transfer to the Pasco County 911 system under a dispatch consolidation proposal city officials are considering.

New Port Richey City Council members decided to explore the idea after discussing it at a recent work session. They could see potential benefits that ranged from improving officer and firefighter safety to stabilizing the city's fire insurance rating and reaping a small amount of savings by the second year should consolidation occur.

“This is not a takeover,” Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said during a presentation to city council members.

In 2012, New Port Richey answered 9,010 emergency calls to 911, Baker said. More than half of those, 4,943, were cellphone calls. All 911 calls from wireless phones are routed to the county, which then must transfer calls meant for New Port Richey police to New Port Richey's dispatch system.

Five cities with independent radio systems are impractical, said Col. Brian Head of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

In one instance, Head recalled, a deputy found himself in dire need of help about a block outside Dade City. A nearby city police officer was unaware of the deputy's predicament. County dispatchers called city officials to relay a message to the police officer.

“The public doesn't see the difference in uniforms,” Baker said.

Safety of officers and firefighters was the motivation behind the proposal, although there could be some cost savings, officials said. The city could save about $90,000 a year by 2015.

The county is upgrading its computer-aided dispatch network and record-management system, Head said. City staff members are researching the cost of a new records management system in case the council rejects consolidation.

The New Port Richey Police Department's CAD system is antiquated, interim Police Chief Kim Bogart told council members. City staff members are researching the cost of new records management software in case the city opts out of consolidation.

City leaders, however, should weigh other factors before consolidating, Bogart said. City dispatchers handle some basic research and several other duties, freeing up police officers for patrols.

If the city goes along with consolidation, four full-time police dispatchers would transfer to the county system with their pay, seniority and benefits intact, Bogart said.

Councilman Bill Phillips asked about the city's fire rating by the Insurance Services Office, which affects premiums on property insurance rates of residents.

City Fire Chief Alex Onishenko reported that the ISO has lowered the city's evaluation in recent years because of aging communications equipment.

The city still enjoys a very good rating of 3 on a scale of 10, Onishenko said. That rating could slip in the future and raise premiums, city officials said.

One is the top rating.

The council reached a consensus to explore consolidation in more detail.

“You can't put a (dollar) number on officer safety,” Mayor Bob Consalvo said.

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