BY MIKE RYAN
I have written previously on the public safety benefits of regionalizing Emergency 911 Communications and Dispatch.
Recently, this 20-year progression toward consolidation stalled as a plan over who would fund the system was rejected by a majority of the County Commission. In the meantime, E-911 calls were bouncing around dispatch centers under the strain of cell-phone technology.
This week, after lengthy wrangling over legal documents, projected costs and trying to patch a fractured system, the County Commission made a stunning move.
They fixed the system!
Up for consideration was a Municipal Services Taxing Unit ordinance and an accompanying Inter-local Agreement.
The MSTU is generated by the County Commission to levy taxes if the cities acquiesce to that MSTU authority.
The ILA was a complex and technical legal document meant to define the rights and responsibilities of the County and each participating municipality.
All of this had to be drafted, signed and sealed by May 10th in order to place MSTU on the next tax bill. The process was being rushed to the point of strain to avoid losing another year.
However, municipalities were rejecting the MSTU plan. They were refusing to participate either because they didn’t have to (because they had a generous BSO contract involving communications) or didn’t want to (because they could get the service cheaper from BSO directly) or couldn’t yet agree (because the documents were nowhere near ready for final approval and would take weeks, if not months to work through all the technical issues).
In the meantime, existing dispatch centers were being asked to provide their centers for the proposed consolidated system. They were terrified to do so with so much chaos on the horizon.
Municipalities continued to pass resolutions practically begging the County Commission to fund this consolidation through a stable and predictable funding source for the entire county. They wanted to move beyond the decades of parochialism and inconsistent contracts.
Maybe the MSTU model would work under other circumstances, where there was not a long history of inconsistent BSO contracts and 31 municipalities to try to convince?
But, if success was measured by generating a true regional system, the MSTU was destined for failure.
A few were happy to join. Some agreed to join under protest. Many municipalities refused … and the litigation was about to begin.
A Lesson In Being Open to Change
In attendance at the County Commission meeting were municipal mayors, elected officials, fire chiefs, police chiefs, and many public safety professionals. None could believe that the County Commission could actually go approve the MSTU and ILA as drafted. All were prepared to once again be heard, for whatever that would be worth.
However, in a stunning development, even before the public comment, Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, a previously staunch advocate for the MSTU, raised real concerns about the progress of the plan. To her credit, she was not shackled by her prior vote, but rather re-examined where we were going. It was clear Commissioner Gunzburger, while supporting the general concept of the MSTU, was not prepared to let the system be further fractured under a failed plan.
When it came time to vote, Commissioner Gunzburger and Commissioner Stacy Ritter changed course and the MSTU plan failed. Also rejecting the MSTU were the original opponents – Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief, Commissioner Lois Wexler and Commissioner Dale Holness (Commissioner Marty Kiar was not present, but had opposed the MSTU originally).
With the MSTU rejected, Commissioner Gunzburger promoted the original countywide funding plan advocated by Commission Wexler and recommended by the County’s Implementation Board. Once Gunzburger backed the countywide plan, it had five votes to pass.
Now, for the first time in decades, we have an opportunity to follow through on what consultant after consultant, board after board, and public safety professionals from throughout the County have been saying for far too long – consolidate the dispatch centers under one umbrella. It will protect our residents and visitors, and provide the fastest response times possible by eliminating structural delay in our 911 system.
With a change in votes, our legacy has also changed for the better.
(Michael Ryan is mayor of Sunrise and co-chaired the Broward County Consolidate Communications Committee along with Broward County Commissioner Lois Wexler.)