911 dispatch centers ask city to support consolidation

SNOCOM and SNOPAC plan to join forces to save money, improve service
By Nicholas Johnson | Sep 13, 2017

An expected 25-percent cost savings, as well as improved service, aren’t enough to convince City Council member Scott Whelpley to support plans to consolidate the county’s 911 dispatch services.

“It’s hard for me to sign a blank check with you guys saying, ‘I promise you’re going to save some money,’” Whelpley told SNOCOM Executive Director Terry Peterson and SNOPAC Executive Director Kurt Mills during a council meeting Sept. 5.

“We need to see some definitive numbers before I can say that this sounds like a great deal.”

Mukilteo is one of several member cities of SNOCOM, which serves southwest Snohomish County. SNOPAC serves the rest of the county, though there is overlap between the two just south and east of Mukilteo, which is referred to as the jointly served area. Both entities provide dispatch services to member law enforcement and fire agencies, paid for through annual assessments.

“There is a service deficiency in that jointly served area and the result is a whole heck of a lot of 911 transfers,” Peterson said. “There’s over 45,000 of them [per year] in that area.”

One out of every five calls for service in the jointly served area ends up being transferred from SNOCOM to SNOPAC, while one in every 50 calls in that area to SNOPAC is transferred back to SNOCOM, Peterson said.

“That’s over 11 days of hold time that citizens are on hold when they’re trying to reach 911 services,” he said.

In the proposed consolidation, the two, 11-member boards of directors would merge to form a 15-member board with members representing member cities, such as Mukilteo. All operations would transition to SNOPAC’s Everett facility, while SNOCOM’s Mountlake Terrace facility would be held and maintained as a backup dispatch center.

As each dispatch center’s board considers a draft interlocal agreement for the consolidation, Peterson and Mills are getting feedback and asking for buy-in from member cities. So far, Lynnwood and Everett have passed resolutions in support of the plan. The interlocal agreement could be adopted by the dispatch center’s boards in October.

“If that happens, the new agency could be formed as early as January 2018,” Peterson said, noting that it would likely take a year to fully transition, meaning full consolidation would effectively occur in 2019.

The move could save $1 million per year as a result of labor reductions through attrition, Mills said, but the transition could cost anywhere from $800,000 to $1.5 million.

“That’s our best estimate right now,” Mills said.

Peterson those one-time transition costs would be covered by reserve money that the dispatch center’s already have, but he also acknowledged that some member cities could see increased rates in the first year.

“In first full year of operation, which would be in 2019, some agencies would see an increase in fees and some agencies would see a decrease,” Mills said. “In the first year, we want to smooth out some of those spikes and dips between agencies.”

Beginning in 2019, the newly consolidated dispatch center would assess member cities using a formula based on calls for service, population and assessed property value, Peterson said.

“If Mukilteo gets busier so they have more calls for service, they may see a rate increase the next year,” he said, noting that the 2018 assessment would be based on the current assessment formula.

In 2017, the city is paying $522,198 for service from both dispatch centers as well as the New World shared computer-aided dispatch system.

“Mukilteo stands to save about 25 percent in annual assessments for dispatch centers,” Peterson said. “That’s a projected savings for Mukilteo of about $132,000 [per year].”

So long as Mukilteo doesn’t see a significant jump in population or calls for service, it shouldn’t much change in its assessment, Mills said.

“In 2019, if we don’t see material changes, these savings will bear out,” he said. “If we see a huge increase in population in the county, things could change.”

Whelpley predicted Mukilteo won’t see a population jump, but said Edmonds or Everett could.

“We’re not Everett or Edmonds, which is almost two or three times the size of us, so the call volumes are much larger there,” he said. “We’re pretty much stuck at 20,000 [people], unless we decide to annex. You should be able to give us a definitive number because our numbers aren’t going up; we’re built out.”

Mukilteo Fire Chief Chris Alexander said he’s confident the city will see some savings in the first year, but said there’s no way to predict exactly what that would be.

“What I will tell you is this means a significant service improvement for Mukilteo,” he said. “By getting all the dispatchers, all the call takers, in the same place, we won’t have situations like we had with our shooting [last year] where some of the calls went to SNOPAC and had to get transferred to SNOCOM to be able to put the whole picture together.

“We need to get all the call takers, all the dipatchers, in the same place, even if the cost is a wash, because the service to our community is hugely increased.”

Alexander said if the city chooses to wait for more definitive costs before signing on, it would continue to have service issues.

“We’ve had these service issues for the last five years, so we can wait another six months to find out what the definitive number is,” Whelpley said.

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said the variables that could impact the city’s assessment rate are the same whether the dispatch centers consolidate or not.

The council is set to resume its discussion and consider a resolution at its next meeting on Monday, Sept. 18.

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