Letter: Resident sees downside to service consolidation for 911

Dear Editor,

Attached you will find a letter which I sent to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and the Hollister City Council (CC) several months ago regarding potential issues that I see with contracting out San Benito County’s 911 services. With 13 years of industry experience at various agencies, but having never worked for San Benito, I see many issues with the closing of our county’s 911 center. In short I see a little to gain and a lot to lose.

As several months have gone by I have heard no information that would quell any of my concerns with this closure moving forward. I read with much interest your recent articles regarding the draft proposal being delivered to the board of supervisors. Unfortunately my work schedule made it impossible to attend either the board or city council meeting to air my concerns. Not being there I’m not sure what information was delivered to the BoS but the information in your articles was insufficient to paint a clear picture as to the true cost and savings of this proposal.

For instance in the article you mention the total savings being around $350,000 after two years but there is no mention of the initial, one-time costs and nor is it mentioned what the current cost of the 911 center is. There is also no mention of what Santa Cruz is actually proposing to charge per year, after the two year period. Assuming the 2010-2011 San Benito budget for 911 is $1.6 million and the savings are as stated at $350,000 then it would appear the cost of the contract (not including start up costs) would be $1.35 million annually.

Furthermore, I’m not sure why the feasibility study was completed by the “vendor” we would be choosing to win a possible contract; where is the impartiality? If I want to know the cost benefits of buying a new office copier versus keeping a current one the best source is probably not the copier salesman – although I’m sure he could come up with all kinds of figures and data about why it would make sense for me to hand over some money to him.

Let’s not forget that feasible does not necessarily equate to being reasonable. For a true cost-savings benefit analysis to be complete it should be done by an outside consultant, one that has industry experience but has no stakes in either the county or any potential contractors for a proposed project (true impartiality). I’m sure Santa Cruz would love to have another $1.3mil in their coffers during these tough economic times when every government agency is trying to trim all that they can out of their budgets.

I believe we need to ask what we stand to gain and what we stand to lose, in addition to the additional risks, by contracting with a communications center that is over 40 miles away and on the opposite side of a mountain range. My attached letter outlines some of my concerns, briefly listed here:

– Geographic disparity would create necessity for more than one radio link to Santa Cruz. Otherwise our public safety hinges on a single mountaintop point of failure.

– Reduced dispatcher first-hand knowledge of unique San Benito geography and current crime trends and community concerns.

– Power and phone outages more likely to affect our 911 access – as any major outages between our counties will come into play. (Such as the criminal act in Aug 2009 that disrupted Santa Clara and Santa Cruz’s 911 centers but did not affect San Benito – next time it will affect us).

– Reduced ability to focus on San Benito during a major earthquake or other regional disaster that taxes all of public safety resources.

– Reduced EOC integration during earthquakes, flooding or other disasters. EOC personnel (depending on what infrastructure remains) may only have radio contact with 911 personnel hampering their ability to coordinate the city and county response to mitigate damages and reduce injury/death.

As I said in my letter to my elected officials I would no rather want my calls answered in San Jose or Los Angeles than I would want them answered in Santa Cruz. It’s not that one group is better than the other, it’s that each one fills a unique need of their community. I believe that a locally staffed and managed 911 center is the best option for meeting the unique needs of our community.

Thank you very much for your time in receiving this article and attached letter. It is my hope that it brings to light some issues previously unexplored.

Shawn T. Leaver, Hollister

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