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County Council, October 12

County to consolidate emergency dispatch services
Concern that City of Charleston will not sign on
Warwick Jones

Meeting as the Finance Committee, Council last night agreed to move forward to consolidate dispatch services in the County. The feasibility study of the plan, to integrate the dispatch of EMS, fire and police response to emergency calls was completed earlier this year. Council last night agreed to fund the consolidation and pay total running costs after 2014.

To be running by 2012 and save $900,000 a year
The consolidated dispatch service is expected to be up and running by 2012 and to be fully phased in by 2014. It is expected to be more efficient than existing services run by the County and municipalities. A spokesman for the St Andrews PSD expected response time to be cut from about 8 minutes to 2 minutes in his area. But as well as improved efficiency, the overall hypothetical savings arising from the consolidation is about $900,000 a year. i.e. The cost would be $900,000 less than the cost of all services run by the County and municipalities presently.

However, the downside for the County of this new service is the cost. The capital cost is estimated at $16.7 million - $15 million for establishment and 1.7 million for transition. Most likely, the major part of the capital costs will be funded from bonds and indeed, $4.2 million budgeted for FY 2008 will be drawn from a bond issue.

County to pay all running costs
Running costs are estimated by the County at about $10.5 million a year and it plans to pick up the whole tab in 2014 and beyond. The municipalities would pay all “status quo” costs in 2012 and 50% in 2013. There has been earlier discussion about allocating part of the operating costs to municipalities but a formula of allocation was difficult to devise to the satisfaction of all parties. So the County reckoned that as this was a County-wide effort, it would pick up the tab. Although there will be a heavier burden on the County, it should be more than offset by the reduction on the municipalities.

Tax increase for County residents?
Will there need to be a tax increase for County residents? Possibly so but it was too early to tell. The $10.5 million estimated cost would come from the General Fund. But there was the possibility of Federal and State grants. Council members opined yesterday that with the operation consolidated through the County, there was a strong possibility of such grants. But there was little possibility while the services were split amongst the County’s municipalities. Of course, there should be a drop in cost of the municipalities as they will no long need to pay for dispatch services, but we won’t hold out breathe.

Why is the City of Charleston so tardy?
It all sounded good sense and logical to this writer. But there was a hitch. All the municipalities had cooperated in the study which was led by Chief Zumalt of North Charleston. But not all municipalities had embraced the idea. The administration of the City of Charleston had expressed negative opinions in the past. Whether the City would sign up was conjectural. Council members asked why the City was tardy. The response from those who seemed to be in the know was a chuckle and a disbelieving shake of the head.

If Mayor Riley does refuse to join the consolidation effort, we hope he tells citizens why. To use the cliché, it looks like a win-win for the City.

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