Sarpy County will pay a consultant up to $60,000 to examine how emergency calls are dispatched in the county.
Four companies submitted bids, but the Matrix Consulting Group won the contract for a four-month study to assess the 911 call center, which employs 32 dispatchers and takes about 50,000 emergency calls a year.
The company will also look at options for consolidating 911 service with Douglas County, supplementing a multi-county study of a regional call or dispatch center.
“They'll be looking at our staffing, scheduling, and what are we going to do, assuming we go through consolidation in the next four to five years,” County Administrator Mark Wayne said.
A World-Herald analysis in May found that Sarpy County routinely takes longer to dispatch calls than national standards allow. County officials, however, say changes were already in the works.
Among those changes: 911 Director Larry Lavelle no longer wears a second hat as the county's emergency manager. This will give him more time to focus on managing the dispatch center, Wayne said.
Matrix will use data from the regional 911 study, which assumes that consolidation is still at least four years away.
In the interim, the Matrix study will help the county by identifying short-term improvements, Wayne said. Board Chairman Jim Warren wanted assurances that the company would gather input from a broad slice of the community before drawing conclusions.
The contract was awarded a day after a committee looking at a regional 911 system estimated that merging the Douglas and Sarpy County call centers would save taxpayers $2 million annually.
But cost isn't the only factor, board member Tom Richards said, and key questions remain: How will the costs be divided among local governments? How would a combined call center be managed? Do the county's police and fire departments understand the changes in how they'd be dispatched? What happens to the Sarpy dispatchers?
“The financial aspect of it is one piece,” he said. “The other piece is, is it the right thing for Sarpy County taxpayers? Are they going to get the same quality of service?”
He's not opposed to consolidation, he said — just cautious.
“I'm not rushing headling into this, that consolidation is the only answer,” he said.