Agreement on 911 merger 'needs to be made' soon

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Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 11:19 am, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

Everyone remains at the table following a meeting Friday morning on a proposed 911 center merger for Sarpy and Douglas counties.

Springfield Mayor Mike Dill said last week during a Springfield City Council meeting that representatives of Sarpy and Douglas counties, as well as Sarpy County's five municipalities and Omaha, were getting close to a decision on the proposed merger.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Dill said discussions are now focused on who would run a joint 911 operations center. He said nothing is certain but a decision is expected by the end of March.

“Everyone agrees that this is worth pursuing,” he said. “We're talking a little bit about governance now, and hopefully our goal is to have something a little more concrete in the next 30 to 60 days.”

Talks have been ongoing for more than two years about the possibility of merging 911 operations for the two counties. A study found the merger could potentially save a combined $2 million annually, but details about how the partnership would work and the risks and rewards of such a venture have kept representatives at the negotiating table.

La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig said Tuesday that the entities were still “working through some particulars” but that Friday's meeting went well.

“We told staff to continue to work,” he said. “I think we're getting to the point now that we're looking at how the contract can be put together.”

Darren Carlson, a spokesman for the City of Papillion, said attorneys spent Jan. 8 in a conference room on the third floor of Papillion City Hall working on issues related to 911 services.

“There are a lot of people who are committed to finding a solution for everyone,” he said. “It goes back to a trend with local government cooperation.”

Carlson said he also expects an announcement in the next month or two, which corresponds to a desire on Douglas County's part to reach a decision in the first quarter of 2014. Douglas County officials have to decide whether to include improvements to the county's 911 facility as part of a bond issue later this year.

The future of that facility – how many staff are needed, who will pay the bills and other questions – is linked to the possibility of 911 mergers.

Jim Thompson, vice chairman of the Sarpy County Board, agreed with the anticipated timeline.

“There's not a lot to say right now,” he said. “I would think within 30 to 60 days we will have real information to get people.”

Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders said things are trending positively.

“It looks like we're proceeding going forward with the merger,” she said Monday.

Sanders said other metropolitan areas have done similar things to this merger.

“We're not reinventing the wheel,” she said. “Hopefully, it will save us quite a bit of money.”

Either way, Carlson said Sarpy County and its municipal governments want to find a way to improve upon the existing network of interlocal agreements among the cities and the county government to provide 911 dispatch services.

“We've got to find a solution in Sarpy County,” he said. “It is really about building an agency – at least here in Sarpy County – that we can all agree on.”

While no agreement has been reached, the entities are getting closer to a decision, Kindig said.

“We're still trying to talk about all the 'what ifs,'” he said. “We're getting to a point where a decision needs to be made.”

Dill said in an interview before the meeting that he was confident a deal could be worked out in Sarpy County. He said he was hopeful an agreement could be worked out soon to determine who would participate in the partnership.

“There are just a lot of details that need to be worked out,” he said.

From Papillion's standpoint, Carlson said the possibility of saving hundreds of thousands of dollars – or millions of dollars annually across the various jurisdictions – is something the public entities must consider.

La Vista echoed those sentiments. Kindig said providing equal or greater services for a savings to the taxpayer is the sort of partnership the city is already doing.

For example, La Vista decided to outsource fire and emergency medical services to the Papillion Fire Department instead of creating its own fully-paid fire department because doing so created a cost savings for both cities.

“It's something we needed to look at,” Kindig said of the proposed 911 merger. “We're still interested in seeing if what we're doing can provide a more efficient service at a savings to the taxpayers and still provide the level of service that everyone should expect.”

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert declined to comment Friday because it was too early in the negotiation process, spokeswoman Carrie Murphy said.

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