O’Fallon and Fairview Heights are in the process of merging their emergency dispatching centers, with the improved center in O’Fallon set to open Jan 1. This is part of a state-mandated consolidation that should save taxpayers significant dollars in the future.
St. Clair County once had 13 dispatching centers, now has eight and to meet the state requirements must drop to four — O’Fallon, East St. Louis, Belleville and Belleville.
Note that we listed Belleville twice. That’s because St. Clair County’s CENCOM is a block off the Public Square and Belleville Police’s dispatch center is five blocks away. That begs the question: “Why can’t St. Clair County go down to three?”
911 Director Herb Simmons said it was discussed, but Belleville is the backup for the county’s central dispatch. Also, Belleville leaders did not want to give up their dispatch center.
The phone fee everyone pays each month for 911 service is for equipment. Employees come out of the local municipal budgets, which is why East St. Louis, which handles 26 percent of the county’s calls, may look at yet giving up its call center to save money.
O’Fallon’s 911 center will start with 11 current O’Fallon staffers and six from Fairview Heights, with Fairview Heights shouldering 45 percent of the cost because they are expected to generate 45 percent of the call volume. O’Fallon has nearly twice the dispatchers to handle a call volume that is only 10 percent greater, so the call center will not need 17 bodies and jobs eventually should be cut.
Madison County is under the same mandate to cut its dispatch centers in half, but they are much more bloated with 16 call centers serving a similar population. After the consolidation they will still have double St. Clair County’s number of centers, although both counties handle nearly identical numbers of calls.
The state mandate to cut was well-intentioned and will save money, but using the same meat clever to cut every county in half doesn’t address the inefficiencies that were initially created by every city wanting its own 911 center. Madison County in particular needs to trim the fat.