Richfield turns to Edina for 911 service

  • Updated: August 14, 2013 - 9:23 PM

Council unanimously chose it over Bloomington and Hennepin County.

Richfield has decided to seek 911 dispatch service from neighboring Edina.

The city has been debating the change since spring, when the cost of running its own dispatch center became an issue. Bloomington, Edina and Hennepin County stepped forward to offer 911 service.

On Tuesday, the Richfield City Council unanimously chose a partner that the city already works with and that council members said they trust.

At a cost of $148,000 to $169,000 a year, Edina’s charges for dispatch service couldn’t match the county’s offer to do it for free. But it was much less than Bloomington’s offer of $450,000 a year. All would charge a one-time transition cost.

Existing close ties between fire departments, the promise of a smooth transition, concerns about Bloomington’s high price and the worry that Richfield could get lost in the county’s big system persuaded council members to go with Edina.

“I met with Edina and was impressed,” said Council Member Tom Fitzhenry, who said he would have chosen Bloomington if it weren’t for the cost. “They have the same core values that we do about knowing who is in the community and looking out for officers on the road.”

A transition committee will begin working on shifting Richfield 911 calls to Edina as soon as possible, City Manager Steve Devich said in an interview. He said the city will work on a four-year agreement with Edina.

At the council meeting, members indicated they shied away from the county over concerns that it serves so many jurisdictions. The county provides 911 service to 24 police departments and 20 fire departments. Richfield residents told council members that one of the things they feared about losing their own dispatch center was dispatchers’ intimate knowledge of the community as well as quick service.

“I think Hennepin County is a professional, well-run organization, but it’s large,” said Member Pat Elliott. “Working with a community [serving two or three cities] is different than facilitating 20 or 21 cities.”

Edina’s dispatch service also serves Golden Valley, which has a contract with Edina for 911 service through 2014. But Golden Valley intends to move its 911 service to the county by the time the county’s new call center, which is under construction, opens late next year.

Moving 911 service to Edina will save Richfield about $500,000 a year in operational costs and $750,000 in costs for upgraded equipment and software, Devich said. The Richfield Fire Department would keep its own radio channel, rather than sharing it with other departments, and police would probably share a radio channel with only one other department.

The one area where Edina’s proposal fell short, in Richfield’s eyes, was that unlike Bloomington and the county, it would not hire any of the nine dispatchers who will lose their jobs when Richfield dispatch shuts down. Council members wished those employees well, saying that an improving economy could open up jobs at other 911 centers for them.

The city is expected to offer severance or early retirement packages to those employees.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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