Commentary; Eliminating Seaford’s 911 center good step

Discussion about the possible elimination of Seaford’s 911 Call Center (911 CC) at the Aug. 23 meeting of Seaford’s Mayor and City Council (M&CC) was definitely a step in the right direction for our city.

First and very significantly, M&CC held a public hearing where more than a dozen citizens were permitted to speak to this issue unlike what happened with the disastrous “Right to Work” issue.

Second, the proposed elimination of the 911 CC clearly showed M&CC’s recognition that the growing city employee payroll (salaries, OEC, pensions, health insurance benefits) is unsustainable.

Many who spoke consider the 911 CC a matter of community pride — an important legacy worth preserving with a sense of “personal” service even in the face of the escalating costs to Seaford residents/taxpayers. Others called the 911 Center a redundant duplication of service which could be wholly provided by Sussex County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Georgetown and paid for with our Sussex County taxes. Several speakers cited preservation of the local 911 CC to be a matter of “public safety.”

Whatever their opinion, no one disputed the annual cost to Seaford residents/taxpayers is now at $650,000 and growing, as well as a large part of the budget deficit.

Clearly, at its core, this dispute is about the desirability of (partially) balancing city budgets by eliminating the 911 CC costs. New revenues will not be nearly enough to meet budget shortfalls. To cover the shortfalls, massive property tax increases and/or hurtful increases in electricity, water and/or sewer rates might be necessary.

Alternatively, M&CC could critically evaluate cutting expenses in other areas such as the $300,000 golf course subsidy, $750,000 in renovations for the (not so) “public” pool, higher (than other cities) per capita Seaford Police Department staffing, new city vehicles every time you turn around and other “fat.”

Both Electric Director Bill Bennett and SPD Chief Marshall Craft were adamant about preserving the Seaford 911 CC even if the Georgetown EOC, funded by our Sussex County taxes, could handle the load. Essentially Bennett and Craft, among others, cited “safety, not money” as their primary reason.

In light of this, I think Mr. Bennett and Chief Craft should identify: 1) the specific safety issues that would negatively impact emergency services with a switch from Seaford 911 CC to the Georgetown EOC; and 2) specific budget areas/items they would be willing to cut from their departments (which spend millions annually) in order to preserve the Seaford 911 CC.

Given the controversy, M&CC decided to postpone any decision about the fate of the 911 CC until a special committee reviewed the matter. I will anxiously await factual information from both this committee and Mr. Bennett and Chief Craft.

However until then, personally I have yet to see any convincing evidence that 911 services would be diminished by switching them to the Georgetown EOC. Further, I believe the existing 911 CC is costing Seaford residents/taxpayers a mint we cannot afford. I do not support higher taxes, higher electric/water/sewer rates etc. to accomplish 911 CC preservation.

Whatever the committee’s recommendation, M&CC’s decision will likely be only the first of several future decisions needed to maintain the fiscal health of Seaford in the face of escalating personnel costs over time.

Finally, “YEA!” to everyone who attended the public hearing and especially those who spoke up!

Dan Cannon is a resident of Seaford.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A final decision was tabled that evening pending further review.

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