Dispatch: What would we give up?

Second of two parts.

Sunday's column was part of a continuing series of occasional suggestions on how local governments can save tax money while still providing the same or only slightly less service to taxpayers, who are footing the bills.

This particular suggestion was simple: Consolidate police dispatching services across the county.

Now that every police and fire agency in Lake is on the same radio system, consolidating the call-takers and dispatchers seems the next logical step.

Lake has 14 cities and the Sheriff's Office that protect the public, and the sheriff already dispatches for seven of those cities — Astatula, Fruitland Park, Howey-in-the-Hills, Mascotte, Minneola, Montverde and Umatilla.

The other seven could save considerable cash by contracting with the sheriff to do it at cost.

Police chiefs typically fight dispatch consolidation — particularly if the employees wouldn't work for them any more, and most of Lake's chiefs are no exception..

Among the most vocal against consolidation is Mount Dora police Chief Randy Scoggins.

"In the departments who have gone to it, it's been a disaster," Scoggins said. "You could do this but there is going to be a huge loss in the level of service."

'Loss of service'

Among the problems: In Mount Dora, citizens would no long be able to walk up to the police department after hours and pay a utility bill or ask for advice from a live person sitting in front of them. He said dispatchers are approached "many times" each night.

"Is it a loss of service if you take away those people? You're ….right it is," Scoggins said. "They're not going to like it in Mount Dora."

Problems couldn't be resolved immediately because the dispatchers wouldn't work for the city.

Accountability would be diminished. "I'll get an answer, but it might be several days later," he said.

Scoggins said that people move to cities to get a higher level of service, so it makes little sense to cut back on the most important service — public safety.

Small cities risk being treated unfairly, he speculated.

"It always gets back to which agency is running it when it comes to who gets specialty treatment in a pinch," Scoggins said.

Any problems would end up on the desk of every chief contracting with the Sheriff's Office, but that chief won't have the authority to get to the bottom of it. A central dispatch center run by a board of directors made up of chiefs is a more appealing idea, he said, because each city would have some say in running it.

The cost of switching is considerable, and a number of issues would have to be hashed out. What would the goals and objectives be? What about performance standards? Which computer software would be used? Who would pay for it?

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