Editorials

So will state 911 cuts leave counties with 455.5?

St. Clair County CENCOM telecommunicators Linda Glasco, Sharon Davis and Shaun Kilman work the 9-1-1 call center in Belleville. Under a new state mandate, counties with at least 250,000 need to reduce the number of answering points by half by July 1, 2017.
St. Clair County CENCOM telecommunicators Linda Glasco, Sharon Davis and Shaun Kilman work the 9-1-1 call center in Belleville. Under a new state mandate, counties with at least 250,000 need to reduce the number of answering points by half by July 1, 2017. dholtmann@bnd.com

Illinois lawmakers have made an inroad into greater government efficiency by mandating emergency dispatch centers in counties with at least 250,000 residents be cut in half before July 2017. Locally, both St. Clair and Madison counties need to do some serious pruning.

Madison County’s 911 director, Terence McFarland, said the state should not be deciding what is best for local government. He said it is going to cost jobs.

Well, after seeing how hard it is to cut layers of government with no appreciable function, such as Belleville Township, it is easy to see how a mandate would be needed for one that has an important function but is bloated. As far as cutting jobs, that is the whole point.

You cannot save tax dollars unless you reduce costs, and salaries are always the largest expense. It is also hard to imagine why Madison County needs 225 telecommunicators to handle emergency phone calls when St. Clair County does it with about 100.

The counties are roughly the same size. With 2,797 crimes per 100,000 residents, St. Clair County in 2014 had nearly one-third more crime than Madison, according to the most recent Illinois State Police crime report.

Plus, the sheer number of answering points argues for consolidation. Madison County had 16 centers answering 128,717 calls last year to St. Clair County’s eight centers answering 210,448 calls. Little wonder why it takes more than twice as many people to staff twice as many centers, but there’s no reason to have more than double the resources devoted to handling a call volume that is 39 percent less.

Seems like there are some dispatchers with time on their hands in the northern reaches of our area.

When the 911 emergency telephone system was initially set up, no one wanted to give up their local dispatch centers. Familiarity with local geography, which streets dead-ended at the tracks, where the bad guys lived and the new address of the dollar store were all valuable bits of info for emergency responders that dispatchers knew from living in the community.

The world has changed and the web now gives us much of that valuable, institutional knowledge. Plus the local cops and firefighters also are sources for that local information.

The police chiefs are right to be concerned about the costs. It seems that when government does decide to act more like a business, the one thing it fails at is to do the math.

This move may save money in the long run, but no one ran the equation ahead of time. The costs of consolidation against the revenue as they charge us all 22 cents more per phone line per month remains a mystery.

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