By Maggie Lee
Dunwoody City Council finds DeKalb County’s 911 service unacceptable, but hasn’t yet decided whether the city should stay with the service, try a new one or start its own.
County dispatchers in Tucker now answer Dunwoody’s 911 calls and dispatch city police and county firefighters in response. But, Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said, “they are well-documented, the failings at the county 911 call center.”
Those failings – such as slow, inefficient service – could convince Dunwoody officials to find a new source for emergency dispatch services. The city could contract with the authority that handles calls for Sandy Springs and Johns Creek, set up an independent center in Dunwoody or pay for Dunwoody-only employees to work at DeKalb’s call center.
ChatComm in Fulton County is very eager to attract Dunwoody to their service, which already is operating in Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.
For Dunwoody, “the bottom line would be a huge improvement in the provision of public safety,” according to the assistant city manager of Sandy Springs, Noah Reiter, who also acts as executive director of ChatComm. ChatComm is a public-private partnership that serves as Sandy Springs and Johns Creeks’ emergency call agency.
If Dunwoody joins, it gets the benefit of automatic aid agreements with Sandy Springs and Johns Creek in a shared 911 center. In a shared 911 center, dispatchers can send out the closest police unit, not simply the closest unit from a given city. “That’s not impossible,” Reiter said, “but much more difficult to do if you don’t have a shared 911 call center.”
But he also admits that “there’s a financial motivation for Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.” ChatComm’s revenues – from 911 fees in its cities – show no signs of growing to cover costs and the authority is not likely to cut jobs to save money. So if Dunwoody signs on – paying a bit more than ChatComm’s cost for service – Sandy Springs’ annual subsidy to the authority will drop, perhaps from $900,000 to about $700,000. Johns Creek might save about $70,000.
A draft ChatComm contract with Dunwoody stipulates a cost of $1.2 million a year for three years, plus a one-time cost of $570,000 due for switchover expenses. Some of that equipment would be owned by Dunwoody. ChatComm also promises not to come begging for any supplement.
“We don’t know what our revenue is,” noted Councilman John Heneghan. It could range from $900,000 to $1.1 million. “And that’s the kicker for us. With ChatComm, we get a fixed cost.”
But hours after a visit to the ChatComm call center in Sandy Springs, Councilman Danny Ross said “the tour tonight frankly gave me more questions than answers.”
“ChatComm is losing money. We’re not going to fill that void … we need a little more information about the internal option.”
That one would see Dunwoody create its own call center with 12 staff and new equipment. According to city estimates, it would run about $1.4 million a year.