Seaford 911 calls may go to Georgetown

SEAFORD — Plans to transfer local emergency calls to county oversight next year are forming in Seaford, where the city council will discuss the issue further next week.

Seaford’s current budget included approximately $650,000 in expenses for its own long-time 911 Center, with $38,000 in revenues generated from the state’s 911 fund, city manager Charles D. Anderson said.

A 19 percent cost increase is anticipated for the next fiscal year, including technical upgrades, facility maintenance and training, along with space constraints. Moving operations to Georgetown would bring $400,000 to $500,000 in 2020 savings, according to the city.

“For a small municipality that’s very significant,” Mr. Anderson said. “The ongoing trajectory of costs isn’t sustainable.”

A public hearing is scheduled at 7 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Seaford Fire Hall. Following discussion at the city council meeting, a vote to table the action or move forward with it will be taken.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Seaford 911 Dispatch Administrator Anita Bell pointed to the value of a locally staffed center and urged citizens to voice their opinions at the upcoming meeting. The post prompted 79 comments and 218 shares within three hours, nearly all unsettled by the proposed change.

Ms. Bell said she and eight full-time staff received news of the proposal from city officials at a Monday morning meeting.
“I got really uneasy when attendance was made mandatory because that’s never done,” she said Tuesday.

“There had been rumors flying around since last week, but to hear it in a room wasn’t good, it kind of put a damper on things.”

Though Ms. Bell quickly proposed a plan to hire part-time dispatchers to save on benefits, lessen overtime costs and limit vacation issues, she said,

“It sounded like it was already a done deal.”
Budgeting and planning
The city has funded its own 911 center through June 30, 2020. If personnel departs to the point of making local operations impossible, services can immediately be transferred to the county center without public safety concerns, city officials said.

Seaford Mayor David Genshaw lauded the city’s 911 staff profusely but cited the economic reality of budgeting and planning for the future.

“This discussion has nothing to do with them,” he said. “We have a team of an administrator and eight other dispatchers who are highly talented, extremely valued and appreciated, high quality people who provide fantastic service to the community,” he said.

“What this really involves, though, is small town economics and a determination by a council that doesn’t believe the right path to take is raising taxes if you want to see the town grow.”

Spokesman Chip Guy said “Sussex County is aware of and has had some preliminary discussions with the City about the possibility of transitioning Seaford Center to the joint State-County 911 facility near Georgetown. These are and have been, to this point, very early discussions, and no decisions have been made.

“Certainly, our state-of-the-art center is a literal lifeline to the tens of thousands of callers who dial us each year for police, fire, and medical assistance, and we stand ready to take on this additional role, if called upon.

“Ultimately, though, any decision begins with and ends with the City of Seaford and what it believes is in the best interest of its taxpayers and citizens.”

Seaford’s 911 center not only covers within city limits, but 77 square miles of the area’s fire district and outlying areas covered by 628 and 629 phone exchanges.

According to Ms. Bell, Seaford’s center handled 15,488 police calls in 2018, 810 fire calls and 3,547 EMS contacts with coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Valuable job skills
If Seaford calls are routed to Georgetown, the mayor and Mr. Anderson pointed to an anticipated need for adding staff. The highly skilled, well-trained local staffers would be valuable assets to communities and the state overall, they said.

“With the transfer of services it’s our goal to assist and help transfer as many of our current staff as possible to those operations,” Mr. Anderson said. “These people are phenomenal and provide a tremendous service and this is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my career.”

That didn’t seem like much solace, Ms. Bell said.
“There are no assurances of jobs and dispatchers were told they’d have to apply for new ones,” Ms. Bell said. “They’ll lose insurance coverage if they don’t find something else so they probably need to be looking for other opportunities.”

The first of its kind, according to Ms. Bell, Seaford took its first 911 call 43 years ago.

“To some, our dispatchers may be just a voice behind a phone or radio that answers the call when help is needed or a problem needs to be handled, but to us you (the community), you are our friends, our family, our brothers and our sisters,” she posted on Facebook.

“It is correct, that when you are transitioned over to another Dispatch Center you will still receive service, but it will not be the same.
“Here is the difference: When you call 911, Seaford 911 Center knows your area like the back of their hand, because we handle your area everyday. When your loved one is having a heart attack, you will get an ambulance and paramedics, but because you live in Seaford, we will send an officer, because he is CPR certified and carries an AED (difibulator) and may be closer.

“When your loved one overdoses, you will recieve an ambulance and paramedics, but because our officers carry narcan and may be closer we will send them too. We are the ones that call out public services when your power goes out. I can go on and on about how the response is different because you have your own 911 Center.”

Added Mr. Guy, “Sussex already does some level of dispatching for and in Seaford, namely whenever paramedics roll on a call or fire companies are called to assist on fires, accidents, etc., in the city. Our center and staff are as familiar with Seaford as any other municipality in the county.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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