County officials peer into future Full 911 center merger unlikely

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Posted: Friday, March 21, 2014 12:00 am

An annual gathering of Sarpy County officials Friday took a wide-angle look at the county’s future.

Discussions included a new interchange with Interstate 80, the financially challenging possibility the state might order the county to hire as many as 30 new probation officials, and the possibility of merging Sarpy County’s emergency response system with Douglas County’s.

Sarpy County’s five county commissioners, all of whom attended the four-hour session, were told that a preliminary proposal laying out options for the redesign of Platteview Road could be available in April or May, and were told that implementing a county sales tax could boost county coffers by between $2 million and $3 million a year.

Commissioners seemed doubtful about fully merging Sarpy County’s Enhanced 911 emergency response system with Douglas County’s, a proposal much publicized after a recent study concluded such a merger would improve public safety and cut costs.

Commissioner Jim Warren, who represents western Sarpy County, led the skepticism.

“To not keep a Sarpy dispatch center is a mistake,” he said. “There are so many details in regards to consolidation that, until you start walking down that path, you don’t know what they are.”

He said a “virtual consolidation” approach makes more sense.

A virtual consolidation would see the Sarpy and Douglas systems networked in two separate locations, one in Sarpy County and one in Douglas County. Dispatchers in either county could dispatch emergency responders to any incident regardless of the county.

Commissioner Tom Richards supported Warren, urging that the county approach a merger at a slower pace. He also expressed reluctance to abandon Sarpy County’s expensive emergency response infrastructure.

“I think you have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run,” he said. “I have a problem walking away from assets that you already purchased. I have a problem walking away from training that you’ve already provided.”

He said technology exists that will permit separate dispatch centers to work together, and still generate savings.

Commissioners Don Kelly and Brenda Carlisle also sounded notes of caution.

Carlisle said federal and state updates regarding emergency response systems are currently being devised and their full impact is not known. Kelly agreed that many questions remain, adding that consolidations in other parts of the country have not always led to cost savings.

Commissioners were scheduled to discuss the issue in more depth at their March 18 session, which was scheduled to take place after the Gretna Breeze’s deadline.

The possibility of building a new interchange with Interstate 80 arose during the session. The interchange would likely be built at 192nd Street.

Sarpy County Public Works Director Dennis Wilson said 192nd Street remains undeveloped, although signs of development are beginning to appear that could complicate construction of an interchange.

County Administrator Mark Wayne warned commissioners that legislation has been introduced in Lincoln that could require the county to hire a budget-busting additional 20 probation officers.

He said the county could experience significant costs housing so many probation officers, either through new construction or renting space in the private sector.

“We have absolutely no room at the inn at all for 20 probation officers,” he said.

Movement appears to be afoot on producing a preliminary study on the redesign of Platteview Road.

A preliminary plan could be provided in April or May. Kelly said little progress has been made on planning the new Platteview Road, and planning and construction milestones should be set.

“We have to put a marker down, whatever that marker is,” he said. “If all we do is talk about it and not put some actionable milestones down, then I’m afraid we’ll be 10 years down the road again, and Platteview Road will still be this little blacktop with no shoulders and dangerous slopes.”

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