Fate of Richfield's dispatch center to be decided next week

Hennepin County would be the cheapest 911 supplier, but some residents object to a change.

Richfield is expected to decide next week whether to keep its dispatch center or to seek 911 service from another provider.

On Tuesday, the City Council will decide whether to commit $382,000 to a software update for its 911 service. Supporting that upgrade means the city will keep its independent dispatch service; voting not to spend that money means the city eventually will seek service from either Hennepin County, Bloomington or Edina.

Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel said that if the council votes to close its dispatch center next week, it will take more time to decide where to seek 911 service.

“I expect a decision of whether we will stay with our own dispatch by July 23, but I think we will have a lot more questions [about 911 alternatives],” she said. “This is a really important decision. …

“It’s really not just about cost, but about the way we like to see our service and about quality, too.”

Hennepin County, Bloomington and Edina all have offered to provide dispatch services to the city, with the county’s bid being the cheapest. Because Richfield residents already support county dispatch through their taxes, there would be no yearly charge for service. The city would pay one-time transition costs of up to $80,000.

Edina would charge about $148,000 a year, with $48,600 in transition costs. Bloomington would charge $450,000 a year, with $50,000 in transition costs. Bloomington would hire seven of Richfield’s nine dispatchers for at least a year or two, if they pass background checks; the county would hire all the dispatchers subject to background checks. Edina would not hire the Richfield employees.

Bloomington has proposed a five-year agreement, Edina a two-year agreement. Hennepin County does not require a contract.

Richfield is spending about $680,000 a year to run its own dispatch center. If the council votes to keep dispatch services in-house, the city will face another $400,000 cost for updated hardware in the next couple of years.

While the savings of switching to another 911 provider are undeniable, dropping the service is a big issue for Richfield. Senior citizens especially have been vocal about fears that response time would get worse. They also have been concerned that new dispatchers would be unfamiliar with the city and that service would suffer.

Representatives of the county and Bloomington and Edina have assured the council that 911 callers shouldn’t notice any difference in service.

Next year, Hennepin County is opening a $34 million communications center that will include dispatch service. The county now provides 911 service to 24 police departments and 20 fire departments. Golden Valley is switching its 911 service to the county next year.

Besides Richfield, Hennepin County cities with their own dispatch include Minneapolis, Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park.

 

Mary Jane Smetanka 612-673-7380 • @smetan

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