The name will change, along with the business cards and the email addresses. Other than that, things won’t look much different.
Today, a brand-new government agency — South Sound 911, Pierce County’s largest emergency dispatcher and public record-keeper — officially opens for business.
A sales-tax increase approved by voters in 2011 created the entity, which replaces the existing Law Enforcement Support Agency (LESA) and merges it with other emergency responders.
Over time, the tax increase — a penny for every $10, which took effect in April — will pay for an upgraded radio system and one or two new dispatch centers that marry the functions of most of the county’s emergency responders.
However, those developments are a long way off. Upgraded radios, compliant with new federal standards for “narrow-banding,” will replace an incompatible hodgepodge — but they won’t arrive until summer or fall. The new dispatch centers don’t exist yet except as concepts; it’s unclear whether one or two will be built, and locations haven’t been picked.
So while Monday marks a milestone, people won’t notice it.
“If everything is planned accordingly and everything goes well, not much of anything is going to happen,” said Jim Sharp, South Sound 911’s project manager.
Emergency calls still will ring at the same place, fielded by a team of dispatchers at 2501 S. 35th St. Requests for auto-crash records and concealed-weapon permits will be handled at the same windows at 945 Tacoma Ave.
“Access to all those things will be provided the same way,” Sharp said.
While the agency isn’t fully formed, it has a likely boss. Friday, the operations board of South Sound 911 — a group of 10 fire and police leaders — recommended Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz to become the agency’s first executive director. The agency’s policy board will take a final look at Neiditz on Wednesday, with confirmation likely to follow. The position has an annual salary range of $175,000 to $205,000.
Assuming Neiditz is confirmed, he’ll take the helm of an agency with annual revenues of $33.2 million. The new sales tax provides $13.5 million of that; the bulk of remaining revenue comes from member agencies.
Member agencies of South Sound 911 are Pierce County, the City of Tacoma (police and fire), the City of Lakewood, the City of Fife and West Pierce Fire & Rescue.
The City of Puyallup is not a member and maintains its own dispatch and radio system, servicing police departments for Puyallup, Bonney Lake and Sumner.
The executive director will oversee a plethora of plans, including the integration of the new radio system and the longer-term search for the new dispatch center. That effort requires a consultant to examine potential sites; the agency is examining a contract for $87,850 to conduct the study.
The task: figure out how to merge three dispatch centers into an efficient operation, and find a place to put them. LESA, which handles the bulk of the county’s dispatch services, will join with two dispatch centers for fire calls. The current LESA site lacks the capacity.
“Moving two fire dispatch centers into a single building — there’s no facility today that we could handle all that in,” Sharp said. “You can’t bring it all under one roof.”
There’s also the record-keeping factor. Currently, LESA is the public-records custodian for 15 agencies scattered throughout the county, including the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the police departments for Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, Edgewood, Roy and Ruston. LESA also provides partial record-keeping services for eight other county agencies.
Additional complexities involve personnel. LESA’s 160 employees operate under negotiated contracts and health plans, as do the other member agencies. How do the contracts change? How do you transition employees from one health plan to another? Those are only some of the tasks ahead.
“Many, many steps,” Sharp said. “The end line of this, a completely finished turnkey is somewhere probably in the second or third quarter of 2014.”Information from News Tribune archives is included in this report. Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 sean.robinson@ thenewstribune.com