Impasse Over Joint 911 Call Center

Would having the city run new center raise political implications?

by Andrew Barksdale, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. / April 6, 2017
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(TNS) - A recommendation for Fayetteville to run a proposed $30 million 911 call center consolidated with Cumberland County’s operation has raised questions.

The city and county members on a 911 Task Force were not ready Wednesday to take a consensus vote on a proposal they would forward to their full elected boards.

One of the task force members, Cumberland County Commissioner Jeannette Council, said having the city run the new center would raise political implications, but the project was long overdue.

“It’s taken a long time, decades, to get to this point,” Council said.

“I know things may not be perfect, but it’s a work in progress,” Council said, referring to the proposal to blend the now-separate city and county 911 centers.

Sensing an impasse, Mayor Nat Robertson suggested creating an authority to run it. He said the county commissioners have boards overseeing some departments now.

Council said the county would then take over operational responsibility for the center.

The mayor looked around the room at City Hall with city and county 911 officials and managers.

“Well, that goes against everybody sitting in the room,” Robertson said.

Council began to stand, gathering her purse and umbrella.

“So, we are at the same sticking points,” Council said, leaving as the meeting ended.

The consultants with Mission Critical Partners said that elsewhere in North Carolina, larger cities operate consolidated 911 centers, because most 911 calls originate inside the municipalities. The cities pay a higher percentage to fund the merged centers.

Of the combined 400,000 annual calls Fayetteville and Cumberland County receive, 255,000 are routed for city police and fire response.

Officials have described their separate centers as cramped and outdated. They want to build a “hardened” structure, away from downtown, that would be less vulnerable to a terrorist attack or some other disaster, as well as to achieve additional operational efficiencies.

The proposed location is on Fields Road, off Cedar Creek Road near Interstate 95.

The consultants were hoping Wednesday to get a task force consensus they could fold into a draft inter-governmental agreement that would go to the City Council and the county Board of Commissioners in May. They need to have such an agreement approved when they apply by May 31 for a grant application with the state's 911 Board to help pay for the new center, the consultants said.

But Cumberland County Commissioner Jimmy Keefe said he wasn’t ready to vote Wednesday, because he wanted to privately ask county staff more questions about the proposal.

“It’s just a lot for a big decision like this to be rolled out,” Keefe said.

In an email staff sent to the council Wednesday night explaining the recommendation, the city's financial obligation for capital and operational costs of the new center "are expected to be significantly higher as these costs are usually distributed based on incident volume."

In addition, the email said, the proposal included the creation of a 911 Advisory Committee with city and county representation to help oversee the merged center. Under the proposal, the county would continue to lead the emergency management function.

Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at barksdalea@fayobserver.com or 486-3565.

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©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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