Some Officials Not Convinced of Cost Savings

Some local officials remain uncommitted to consolidating four emergency communication centers in Franklin County even though a state representative has said it could save taxpayer money by creating efficiencies.

It is unnecessary to have several call centers in the county when the call volume only justifies one, State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said.

Other areas of the state are dealing with the same problem, he said.

There is a call center at the sheriff’s office and in the cities of Washington, Pacific and Sullivan.

It’s not just Hinson who says consolidation is the right direction. A study commissioned by the county years ago found that a joint communication center would be the best option, according to Sheriff Gary Toelke.

But some city and county officials are not pursuing the effort.

It has yet to be shown that consolidating communication centers would save money, said city of Washington Emergency Management Director Bill Halmich.

“I think it deserves a lot more research and consideration,” Halmich said.

Just because consolidation has taken place in other areas, such as St. Louis County, does not mean it would work here, Halmich added.

No Meeting

Despite the fact that taxpayer money could possibly be saved, First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said there is not even a meeting set up to discuss consolidation.

However, Brinker said the issue may come up at a meeting of the Emergency Communication Management Board, which he sits on.

Pacific Alderman Steve Myers said he is willing to look into consolidation, saying it “makes a lot of sense.”

But Myers said he would have to research the issue and speak with his city’s police chief and county officials before making a decision on whether he was in favor or against consolidation.

Government should do everything it can to implement changes that can create cost savings and efficiencies for taxpayers, Myers added.

He said he would bring up the idea of consolidation at Pacific’s next board of aldermen meeting and speak with Hinson on the matter.

Meanwhile, Hinson said legislation to bolster 911 services is not going to move until cities and counties across the state start getting serious about consolidating communication centers.

Personal Service?

Consolidating call centers may make financial sense on paper, but might not be the best decision for citizens, Sullivan City Administrator J.T. Hardy said.

Citizens may lose some of the personal service and convenience they receive from their individual city’s call center if there was a larger, regional operation, Hardy said. He said he thinks the cities like having local management of the dispatch centers.

For instance, Hardy said his city’s dispatch center, which is located in the police department, handles issues ranging from downed trees to ambulance and police calls.

He questioned whether a combined center would also handle calls such as water main breaks, or if it would only deal with emergency calls.

While it may cost the city of Sullivan a lot of money to provide a communication center, it is a service the citizens have become accustomed to after having it for decades, Hardy said.

Brinker agreed that whatever is done should be in the best interests of the citizens. If taxpayers are happy with the way the system is now, then it will stay that way, he said.

Last week, Brinker said he did not know if consolidation could save money since there has been no cost analysis.

Consolidation would require a willingness from the municipalities that have communication centers to go forward with the right plan, Brinker said.

But the consultant who did the study for the county years ago felt that the government entities would be reluctant to consolidate, the sheriff said.