County questions abandoned 911 plan

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Willis: City may have to assume cost associated with separate 911 center

By Chris Sardelli

Christopher Sardelli
Questions abounded from Lancaster County Council members Monday night, Nov. 26, about  recent news that the city of Lancaster had abandoned a plan for a joint E-911 center.
County Administrator Steve Willis informed council members that Lancaster City Council elected to keep its own 911 center, effectively halting a proposed plan to merge both the city and county’s 911 dispatch centers.
“We received communication that the city does not want to participate in the 911 plan,” Willis said.
City Council voted 6-1 at its Nov. 13 meeting to maintain the city’s stand-alone 911 dispatch center, housed in the Municipal Justice Center complex on East Arch Street, as a way to provide better service to city residents. They also decided they would seek funds for the center from both grants and the 911 tariff funding.
“I personally hate this as a taxpayer, but this is what the city wanted,” Willis said.
The plan was to eventually move all of the county’s dispatchers into the sheriff’s office’s Pageland Highway building, which will eventually be housed exclusively by 911 staff.
County Councilwoman Charlene McGriff questioned the abandonment of the project.
“I really would like to know what happened. We put so much time and energy in this project,” McGriff said. “I don’t know what changed their mind, but let’s make sure whatever we do is in writing. Did they not know this in the beginning?”
Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare clarified the situation and said no formal decision had ever been made by the city to approve the project.
“They (City Council) never agreed in the beginning. Not a decision was made until the other evening,” Sistare said. “(Lancaster Police) Chief (Harlean) Howard was confident with the system as it is.”
Several County Council members, including Councilmen Jack Estridge and Cotton Cole, expressed concern about the decision.
“You can quote me. I’m very disappointed that the city of Lancaster can’t agree on the 911 center,” Estridge said.
Cole worried about the financial cost to residents if the two centers are not combined.
“It’s double taxation to be able to have two 911 centers when you can have them all in one room. We’ve wanted one consolidated 911 center. I’d really like to know what made them (City Council) change their minds,” Cole said.
Despite City Council’s vote, Willis is working with the county’s Public Safety Communications Director Chris Nunnery to configure the county’s system for an eventual joint facility. Willis said this is in case city officials ever decide to pursue the joint system.
“As we move forward, hopefully at some point this may change,” he said. “This could be a possibility in the future.”
In a memo to council, Willis also said Nunnery is looking into which expenses will be associated with the city’s 911 center.
“Lancaster County has been paying for certain costs such as equipment maintenance, personnel training, etc.,” Willis said. “If the funding is diverted, we would expect the city of Lancaster to assume those costs associated with their separate 911 center since they have voluntarily elected not to have the county provide the service to them.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli   at (803) 416-8416