The Spokane City Council voted unanimously Monday night to keep its own 911 dispatch separate from a new regionwide dispatch system that will go online next week.
The regional communications center will combine county emergency communications, Crime Check, Sheriff’s Office dispatchers and radio employees into a new center under a governing board made up of local fire and police chiefs, as well as administrators. The new system is set to go live on July 1.
Spokane City Council members said the board that governs the new system, the Spokane Regional Emergency Communications (SREC) board, hasn’t been transparent with them about what would happen to city dispatcher jobs, or if it would make emergency service response times faster. Many dispatchers have also spoken out against the new center, saying there isn’t an issue with how the city currently dispatches emergencies.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she hadn’t gotten answers from the mayor or SREC that made her feel comfortable with supporting a new center.
“We don’t have that closure or confidence that we can go forward and we can say ‘taxpayer, we’re doing right by you and employee, we’re doing the best for you,’ ” she said.
Councilwoman Candace Mumm said when the city considers who it should go into business with, it should be with an organization that answers its questions and is transparent. She said the council has repeatedly asked for budgets, written letters asking what the new center would look like and asked how it would save money. The answers changed, she said, or took too long to get.
“I’m not interested in going into business with that type of group that doesn’t have it together yet,” she said. “Maybe we’ll be able to integrate and do it slowly and properly, but we’re not there yet at all.”
Mayor David Condon, who supports integrating emergency communications regionwide, said in a statement that the administration and council agreed two years ago to work toward integration. He said the council’s vote failed to recognize how joining SREC would make emergency response faster and less expensive. His administration estimates the city will pay $1 million more next year to run its own dispatch than it would have if it joined SREC.
The mayor also laid off 10 dispatchers last month, saying the city would not need as many dispatchers if they don’t join the system. If the city doesn’t join the new center, Spokane fire and police dispatchers would only field calls from inside the city, and all of the 911 calls from across the county would be fielded by SREC.
SREC spokeswoman Kirstin Davis said most of the dispatchers that were laid off last month have been hired by SREC and were offered as good or better compensation than they received from the city. Employee benefits are still being negotiated.
When the new dispatch center goes online on July 1, she said, the public should not notice a difference because most of the same employees will be doing the same job they did before with the same equipment.
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