VENICE, Fla. - City leaders are taking the next step towards having Sarasota County take over their emergency calls. Not everyone is thrilled with the idea, including dispatchers and those who rely on their help in the field.
Tuesday they had two choices. They could keep their current dispatchers right where they are, or move forward with the county's proposal to take over and consolidate. "We are at a point today where we are ready to decide that yes we want to do due diligence," says Mayor John Holic.
They ended up voting unanimously to move forward with consolidation. They're now set to work up an inter-local agreement with the county before final approval. The county has said they will take over for free. "All aspects of combining dispatch will be looked at. Including potential cost savings to the city."
However, in the audience are a handful of off-duty VPD officers.
"We want them to know the Venice Police dispatchers are an important part of this community." Sgt. Joe Whitehead has nearly 30 years on the job. He's against the idea. "My main concern in community safety. The dispatchers know the city."
In fact he says he can't think of a single member of the force who wants to see the consolidation happen...you know, the men and women who's life may depend on that voice on the other end? "They can sense when there is something wrong. If you have a situation where something is going on and all of a sudden the inflection in your voice changes that dispatcher knows there is a change. I've seen in numerous times in my 30 year career."
Whitehead says more personal services they offer will be lost. There has also been concern about record keeping and even just having someone to handle visitors at the door.
Mayor Holic says nothing is final but they are one step closer. "We are trying to keep a very open mind. Trying to make sure that what the final decision is proper for the city."
City leaders say they are confident their dispatchers will find a job in the county's call center. Whitehead says nothing is guaranteed and it's simply more than that. "They are a part of this community. They want to stay a part of this community."
Sarasota County officials say they will need an answer soon as they work to design a new emergency operations center which will house dispatchers. They just need to know how many.
The cities of North Port and Longboat Key also have to make a decision to move forward by the county's May 19th deadline.