Excerpts from the Telegraph.com:

Statewide consolidation of 911 emergency systems has been touted by supporters, including Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office, as a good thing, but leaders in Madison County aren’t so sure.

Numerous fire and police chiefs in the county have pushed back against the idea that consolidating individual systems to one statewide, comprehensive system — an effort that will force Madison County to reduce the number of public safety answering points (PSAPs) from 16 to eight — will create a better experience for residents. On the contrary, many local leaders see the effort as a move that will hurt both public safety and their departments’ bottom lines.

Illinois Public Act 099-0006 went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, giving the newly created Office of the Statewide 9-1-1 Administrator the task of developing, implementing, and overseeing a uniform statewide 911 system for all areas of the state outside of municipalities having a population over 500,000. Only Chicago is exempt from the statewide system.

As part of the state takeover, counties with more than 250,000 residents were ordered to put together a consolidation plan that would cut the number of PSAPs in their county by 50 percent. Earlier this year, Catherine Kelly, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rauner’s office, told the Belleville News-Democrat that consolidation was good for the state.

“Consolidation makes government more efficient and better uses taxpayer dollars, and this bill accomplishes that while increasing public safety,” Kelly told BND in February.

County leaders disagree. In 1989, Madison County residents voted to establish a 67-cent surcharge on phone lines that helps fund the county’s 911 system. In recent years, the county has worked to establish its Next Generation 911 system — an Internet Protocol (IP)-based system that allows digital information (e.g., voice, photos, videos, text messages) to flow seamlessly from the public, through the 911 network, and on to emergency personnel —which Madison County 9-1-1 Coordinator Terence McFarland called “state of the art.”

“From a public safety standpoint, we have a very good system right now,” East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood said. “When people pick up the phone and they call 911, we get calls very efficiently and effectively to them.

The financial aspect of consolidating PSAPs has also created questions among police and fire chiefs in the county. Approximately 225 dispatchers are employed throughout the county’s 16 PSAPs, all of which are located within police department headquarters. Consolidation to a 911 center that dispatches calls for multiple municipalities would possibly include the loss of some jobs.

But Wood River Police Chief Otis Steward said dispatchers’ jobs extend beyond simply directing police officers or firefighters to locations. In Wood River, dispatchers also monitor prisoners in the city’s jail, enter warrants and more.

“(Dispatching) probably accounts for five percent of what they do,” Steward said. “So, we are not going to give up our dispatch to somewhere else, so when a citizen comes into our police department we have no one sitting there. If you’re willing to give up your dispatch to go to a consolidated center, then that’s fine. We are keeping our dispatch.”

Currently, dispatchers are paid by the city or department that employs them. The equipment, including computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and geographic information system (GIS) mapping, is paid for by the 911 phone surcharge.

If other police departments likewise keep their dispatchers — Bethalto Lt. Craig Welch and East Alton Chief Darren Carlton are among those who have also expressed an unwillingness to part with dispatchers in the event they lose their PSAP in consolidation — the effort would actually result in an increase in personnel costs. On whom that added cost would fall is among the questions local leaders have asked of state personnel, with little clarity.

As part of creating the statewide system, counties had until this past Thursday to submit consolidation plans or apply for a waiver for exemption for a period of time or, in some cases, permanently.

The Madison County Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) submitted a waiver asking for an additional year past the July 1, 2017 deadline for consolidation to be completed. The waiver will be reviewed by the Office of the Statewide 9-1-1 Administrator and will be granted or denied within 90 days of the request.

In the meantime, ETSB is planning to commission a study to better understand the feasibility of consolidation options. Per the waiver, the independent study will also examine the collective bargaining agreements between various communities and their employees, dispatch center improvement and impact costs, and more.

Tags: , , , , , ,