Safety concerns and cost divide leaders on 911 consolidation pla - – Rockford’s News Leader

Safety concerns and cost divide leaders on 911 consolidation plan


When you call 911,  you expect to get help. But cell phone calls don't always go to the right 911 center,  forcing dispatchers to transfer emergencies. That's why some area leaders in Winnebago County and Rockford want to consolidate the two 911 centers.
But the plan isn't sitting well with some of the outlying communities.

"Citizens don't understand, why are you transferring my call? I dialed 911," said Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten.

Bergsten is one of the supporters of 911 consolidation, saying every second matters in an emergency and transferring calls wastes precious time.

As an example, he points to a 911 call made when two men were breaking into a woman's house. The call was supposed to go to Rockford's call center, but instead went to Winnebago County's.

"It's a delay in response, it's also a safety issue," said Bergsten.

"Eleven-thousand calls a year bounce off the wrong cell tower. we want to address that," said Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney.

Haney says there's a plan on the table to fix that. Take the county 911 center operations and bring it to Rockford's 911 center. But that's not the only issue a consolidation plan would address. Right now,  only four municipalities pay for 911 service. Winnebago County, Rockford, Loves Park and Machesney Park. Haney says it's time for everyone to pay their fair share. But there's one problem. The consolidation doesn't have  support from some other communities in Winnebago County-- like Loves Park.

"We pay $130,000 a year. This consolidation that they're attempting to put through, the current model that they're proposing has us paying $355,000," said Loves Park Mayor Greg Jury. "We know we have to pay more, but it just doesn't add up."

Jury says the fees for Loves Park and other municipalities go up far too much. In the proposal, Roscoe would pay more than $145, 000 while South Beloit would pay more than $155,000 and Rockton more than $197,000. Right now, those municipalities pay nothing.

"When you're talking small communities like Rockton and Roscoe, that's a huge hit," said Jury. "Winnebago County saves between $800 (thousand) and a million dollars and all the outlying communities pay like $1.3 million more."

Opponents say it's not just about the money though.

"There's not even a model on the table at this point that would include governance by anyone but the city of Rockford," said Loves Park Police Chief Chuck Lynde.

Right now, Loves Park has people representing its interests as board members on the Winnebago County Board. Lynde, who also sits on the 911 board, says if the county loses its center that representation goes away.

"When you're looking out for your own community, we have to somehow make sure we're not being used as a funding source for some other community. We've never had to object paying our fair share," said Lynde.

Haney says he understands the concerns from the other communities but when it comes down to it, he says keeping things the way they are isn't an option.

"When you are having a medical issue or emergency, you just want when you call that somebody picks up and the service is delivered in the most cost effective and excellent way possible," he said.

Luckily in the case of the caller transferred during a break-in, the would-be robbers ran off and didn't hurt her. But supporters of consolidation like Bergsten say they don't want to take the chance that something similar could happen again and end much worse.

 Both sides say they want what's best for their community, they just don't have the same idea of what the best is.

Leaders in Loves Park, Roscoe, Rockton and South Beloit have talked about getting their own 911 center to share among each other given the increase in cost with the 911 consolidation proposal. They say it's because they have to do what's in the best interest for taxpayers, and if their own 911 center is cheaper, they may go with that option. Haney says a final decision is still months away and he's open to suggestions on making a consolidation plan work for everyone.

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