Fighting to keep North Port dispatchers

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Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2014 5:14 pm

NORTH PORT, FL. - This week, the city of Venice officially handed over its Emergency Call Center to Sarasota County.

Meanwhile, the city of North Port is weighing if they should do the same. There is, however, a groundswell of support coming from the community, asking city leaders to keep their current system the way it is.

On Thursday, residents and current dispatchers spoke out at this week’s meeting, saying they know that the city could save some money, but at what cost?

Some North Port residents were donning, "Save Our Dispatchers" shirts, letting city leaders know they want the city's own department handling the calls.

Resident: "We need to keep our dispatchers here."

Resident: "Yes, you could save some money, I understand that, but these dispatchers are important to me."

"It is vital for us to keep this as we grow larger and larger. It's invaluable to us,” says Melanee Packard of North Port.

Handling more than 4,300 calls per year, North Port Police Chief Kevin Vespia says having someone who knows the officers and the area like the back of their hand is obviously helpful. “It is certainly beneficial to have someone who is familiar with the area. That's a given."

Gearing up to build a new multimillion-dollar Emergency Operations Center, Sarasota County wants to know if the city wants them to take over the service. Apparently, it’s something North Port says they should offer at no additional cost to city tax payers. "As a police chief, you never want to lose control of an operation, but understanding you have to be fiscally responsible," says Chief Vespia.

For months, Chief Vespia has been studying the pros and cons of letting the county take over. The biggest pro is for millions in savings over the next few years. "Between $439,000 and $500,000 a year in potential savings."

City dispatchers would also have first preference in being hired by the county to do the same job, just under the sheriff's office. Still, many believe the growing city should leave its fate and safety up to itself. The union representative for the city's officers says they do not support a switch.

"This is what makes me feel safe here. Knowing if I need help or my kids need help…that they are going to be there in minutes…two or three…not ten of fifteen," says Packard.

Now, some say how quick a response would be is certainly debatable. In fact, how it works now if you call 9-1-1 in North Port, you actually get the Sarasota County Call Center, who determines where you are located and then transfers you to North Port.

Chief Vespia says it could be a few months before a final decision is made.

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