(Update to story) Cass Co. Supervisors to discuss privatizing emergency/public communications

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October 11th, 2013 by Ric Hanson

Cass County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Wedemeyer has confirmed he has been in contact with a New Jersey company with regard to the possible privatization of County Emergency & Public Safety Communications. The County has been looking at options for the 9-1-1 Center, currently based in the courthouse. The Center is outgrowing its present facility, and efforts have been made to look into remodeling sections of the courthouse to expand the space, as well as other, possible locations for the center. Wedemeyer said he contacted Cranbury, NJ-based iXP (http://www.ixpcorp.com) before meeting with the Public Safety & Communications Commission on Sept. 23rd, and presented some information about their services. 

Wedemeyer said they’ve been trying to negotiate a deal on another property for the 9-1-1 center, and some people has suggested other municipalities had opted for privatization. He did some research and brought it up to the Commission, which told him to move forward with exploring the option.

Cass County 9-1-1 Director Rob Koppert told KJAN News Thursday night he wasn’t aware the subject would be brought up at next week’s meeting, and as far as he knew, neither was anyone on the Commission. Wedemeyer, who is the Supervisors’ representative on the Commission, said the County is only exploring the option at this time. 

He said “We wouldn’t do it if it weren’t financially better for the County. Mostly, where these companies are coming in is where there are unionized people with big retirement” packages. The private companies take over and are able to save money in those cases. He said he wants residents of the county to be aware the option is being considered at this time.

Ron Koppert said during the September meeting, that he wasn’t aware of any firms in Iowa or around the region that would handle 9-1-1 calls in the private sector, but Wedemeyer says there are very instances across the country, where emergency dispatch services have been turned over from County-run operations to a private provider. The topic has been broached at past ISAC (Iowa State Association of Counties) meetings, and Wedemeyer said the County should look into it before “We spend a lot of money.”

One such case where local governments have opted for privatization, is Lawrence Township, in Mercer County, NJ., which in January, 2013, agreed to hired iXP Corporation to handle its 9-1-1 dispatches.  iXP was awarded a two-year, $719,400 contract to run police dispatch for the community, whose population as of the 2010 Census was nearly 33,500. It was estimated the move would save the county $1.1-million over a period of 5-years. Another case is Sandy Springs, GA, an incorporated suburb of Atlanta with 94,000 residents, which has its 9-1-1 dispatch center also operated by iXP.

Wedemeyer says officials with iXP seem to think the County might not need its services, but additional information is needed. They told him “It looks like we’re doing a pretty good job the way we’re doing it,” but they want to conduct an assessment, which is not free.

The theory behind privatizing the service is to save a County money, but there are many questions that remain, including: How much money would be saved? Would the calls be routed to iXP’s facilities in New Jersey, or would there be a local office? Would the current dispatchers, with knowledge of the county be utilized? And, will the service be as efficient as the current system. We hope to learn the answers to those questions and others, during  Wednesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, which begins at 9-a.m.