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North Port turns down county's offer to take over 911 dispatch

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- North Port city leaders have elected to keep their 911 police dispatch service, voting 4-1 on Monday night. Sarasota County had offered to take over the duties, but after more than a year of crunching the numbers and weighing the decision, North Port says no thanks.

The decision means many in the North Port Police Department are happy.

"I am very pleased with the commission’s decision." Chief Kevin Vespia says that after 15 months of hammering out the pros and cons, in the end his opinion was to stick with their own. "As a police chief, you want control of the functions and the services you provide to our citizens."

After looking at initial savings of between $400,000 and $800,000 a year for the 15 current positions, the ultimate decision came down to city commissioners.

Commissioner Linda Yates says if you don't offer services, what's the point of being a municipality? "You're in a city for a reason. Typically you want a higher level of standard otherwise provided by a county."

Yates says keeping local dispatchers who know the area better makes residents safer.

Last year they handled more than 78,000 calls. "That local familiarity is so important to minimize the time it takes to get that dispatch out to units."

Sarasota County has said they needed the answer now while planning and building a new emergency operations center.

North Port leaders were concerned though the savings would not be forever. "The inter-local, as written, was a guaranteed savings for five years. We just don't know what to expect after that."

"All of the unknowns were critical for me." Vespia says their current system is working well, and that if they did make the change it would be hard to go back if it didn't work out. "It would be very difficult to establish and very costly to reestablish."

The City of Venice was also given the same deal. Despite concerns from their police department, they took it. So far we are told it's working well.

However, those in North Port say there are big differences between Venice and North Port; the big one being North Port's size, which is now the largest city both in size and population in Sarasota County.

Longboat Key was also offered the deal to take over 911 services. There has been no decision yet.