BY MIKE RYAN, MAYOR OF SUNRISE
Sometimes, one vote does matter. Today, we learned the hard way. The decade-long effort to regionalize 911 dispatch communications FAILED.
Given the opportunity to re-think their vote and consider the Implementation Board’s response to the defective Municipal Services Taxing Unit/Interlocal Agreement County proposal, five County Commissioners voted against the recommendations of their own Implementation Board and that which cities representing 87% of Broward’s population practically begged them to implement.
What appeared to be the motive of commissioners: How much pain each city should feel.
What they really should have considered: Thousands of delayed emergency 911 calls and tens of millions of dollars wasted annually.
Thankfully, Commissioner Lois Wexler, Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief, and Commissioners Marty Kiar and Dale Holness voted to fund this like a true regional service.
But, that wasn’t enough.
The no votes: Mayor Kristin Jacobs, Commissioner Chip Lamarca, Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger, Commissioner Stacy Ritter and Commissioner Tim Ryan.
Five-to-four against a proposal to give us the best and most stable 911 system, while saving money in the future, too.
Same Problems Today, Same Solutions for Tomorrow
I have already written on the dangers and delays from misdirected 911 calls. Everyone knows about this dangerous gap in public safety. To make matters worse, we are wasting taxpayer money paying for too many centers across the County, with a patchwork of public safety interoperability.
After a decade of feasibility studies, reports, meetings, evidence gathered and recommendations, and the well-identified funding chaos initiated by the County, the County Commission’s Implementation Board recommended (a) funding for the Regional E911 system must be stable, predictable and secure from the political and financial instability of 31 different municipalities; and (b) funding, therefore, must be through regional countywide ad valorem.
We fund REGIONAL libraries and REGIONAL parks through countywide ad valorem. We don’t send bills to each city budget to fund these. Then again, no one ever died from a delay in finding a book on a shelf or a line too long into a regional park.
Here’s the kicker: turns out the County Commissioners have been paying $19,000,000 to supplement the BSO budget for contract cities’ dispatch communications.
That’s right …. BSO contracted with cities to provide services, but County General Fund dollars have been paid to BSO to make up for not billing cities. For those who do not contract with BSO, that is YOUR county property tax money diverted by the County Commissioners to supplement BSO contracts.
The Contract Cities say, “Hey, when we contracted for BSO, we assumed they would actually be sent to calls, so we believe the contract covers dispatch services.” Problem is, the County sent bills in 2011 saying otherwise … and now everyone is gonna lawyer up.
Political Myopia Dominates the Analysis
The solution was simple. In achieving this public safety improvement and projected $100,000,000 savings over the next decade, regionalization results in a potential increase of .2 mills on the County bill while saving more money for the residents and cities. This potential increase assumes property values do not rise at all to help cover the gap. In exchange, the County and all taxpayers save real dollars on operational costs and future upgrades, avoid the significant costs to build regional centers already built by cities, and develop a legacy of improving public safety regionally.
Instead, the County now wants cities that are not paying for communications separately to agree to a Municipal Services Taxing Unit proposal, increasing the millage on cities. For residents in those cities that have their own dispatch services, they will want a refund from the County of the tens of millions of dollars given away year after year to BSO by the County Commission.
Had the County followed the recommendations from a decade ago, we would have already saved minutes on tens of thousands of 911 emergency calls and tens of millions of dollars during the worst of times.
Sadly, chaos in the funding and administration of E911 will persist and political myopia will cloud our vision and legacy for the future.
(Broward County Consolidate Communications Committee was co-chaired by Broward County Commissioner Lois Wexler and Mayor Mike Ryan of Sunrise.)