At the last Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee meeting, Mayor Bill Foster held up a city organization chart and said, "This is $199 million organization model. We need a $185 million model."
County administrator Bob LaSala and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri have begun serious talks to consolidate the county emergency center and the Sheriff's 911 center.
The St. Petersburg 911 Center literally duplicates the service performed by the County 911 Center. All 911 calls in Pinellas County go to the County 911 Center. St. Petersburg medical emergency and fire calls are already dispatched by the County Center.
Calls for St. Petersburg Police Service are answered by the County 911 Center and transferred to the St. Pete Center, where they are processed through a call taker and a dispatcher. That adds two more people and additional time to the actual police dispatch.
Centralized dispatch should result in better service for the public. Duplicating 911 call centers has always been a parochial issue, and the city can no longer afford it.
There is absolutely no reason to spend millions of dollars on a dispatch center in the new police building to duplicate something that already exists at the county level; and continuing to spend millions of operational dollars on police dispatch when the balance of that money can be turned into on-the-street police presence
The cost of the new police building is driven as much by the technology as it is by the bricks and mortar. Elimination of a fully functional 911 center and its associated security, environmental requirements and technology infrastructure should reduce the cost of the new police building significantly.
Now is the time to get the public safety issue on the budget radar. The Mayor and City Council must take the lead in developing a new, more efficient and more effective public safety program.
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