Editorials

Taxpayers call, Madison County dispatchers answer: ‘911. What’s your urgency?’

dholtmann@bnd.com

Illinois gave its largest counties 18 months to cut their 911 emergency dispatch centers in half. It is a move intended to lighten the burden on taxpayers and will help the call centers get the latest technology because they only need to buy half as many items.

St. Clair County is nearly finished merging its eight call centers into four. Fairview Heights and O’Fallon just moved into a new shared facility expected to cost $620,000 less per year to operate. Only Swansea needs to decide whether to merge with Belleville’s center or the county’s central communications, and there’s another six months until the deadline.

Madison County has 16 centers. They can’t figure out how to merge down to eight, so they got an administrative judge to give them until Jan. 1 to submit their plan and then another year to do anything.

So the county that was fatter to begin with is slower to react. Save tax dollars? Why rush it?

Sixteen fiefdoms don’t end easily. Cities want to hold on to “their” dispatchers, the people who know their community best.

But the technology has advanced to the point that a dispatcher’s memory is less valuable than their judgment, and that person could be sitting anywhere or be from anywhere.

It takes 225 people to run Madison County’s call centers, but about 100 for St. Clair County’s. Same population. Same 911 call volume.

If St. Clair County can manage with four call centers, so can Madison County.

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