Broward considers regional 911 system

Proposal to fund system with property tax increase fails

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Broward County commissioners approved a plan to implement a county-wide 911 system but whether it will be implemented is still very much in the air.

The idea has been in the works for a decade and is widely supported by most of Broward's 31 city managers and police and fire chiefs.

Right now, Broward is a patchwork of 911 call centers. Eleven cities have their own dispatchers and that often leads to confusion when someone calls 911 from a cell phone.

It's a problem highlighted earlier this month when a couple, who was being chased by two men in Sunrise, called 911 for help.

"They just took a golf club and hit our car with it," said Tina Ratcliff. "I think they're in some sort of road rage or something."

Ratcliff called 911 from her cell phone, and was bounced between Plantation and Sunrise Police Departments. For eight minutes, the woman was transferred between agencies, having to explain her situation and location each time.

"Ok ma'am, are you in Sunrise?" asked the dispatcher.

"Gosh darn it. Don't you know where I'm at? I'm giving you the address?" Ratcliff responded.

She was one of several who spoke in favor of a regional 911 system at Tuesday's Broward County Commission meeting.

"The experience was horrific," Ratcliff told commissioners.

A consolidated 911 system would divide the county into three regions with each having a single point of contact for those in need of help and a single facility to dispatch officers to them.

"It's a matter of a political decision at this point. Everyone agrees there should be regionalization in Broward County, however, who's going to pay for it?" said Broward county commissioner Lois Wexler.

Wexler's proposal to raise county-wide property taxes to fund a portion of the $43 million dollar system failed at the meeting. If passed, it would have cost property owners an average of $22 a year.

"I'm just not ready today to say that I'm willing to raise taxes to do this," said commissioner Stacy Ritter, who opposed the plan because of the county-wide funding proposal.

County leaders ultimately approved a measure to have the cities fund the project with some paying more than others. The amount will be based on a complicated formula that includes population and the number of 911 calls the cities handle each year.

"When I read cooperative consolidation, I would consider some shared responsibility between the county and the cities," said commissioner Tim Ryan.

The issue now goes back to the cities. If one of the larger cities in Broward, or a handful of smaller ones, decide they don't want to tax their residents to pay for it, the regional 911 system could essentially be dead.

City leaders in Plantation and Coral Springs have already indicated they don't want to take part in the county-wide program.

Under the current plan, the three regional dispatch centers would be located in Coconut Creek, Sunrise and Pembroke Pines; however, it's still unclear who would operate them or when the system would be up and running.

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