County offers to take over city’s 911

Minneapolis weighing its own plan to expand coverage and lower costs

City officials are pondering a recent Hennepin County offer to absorb the city's 911 operations at no charge. City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (11th Ward) said the county expects preliminary commitment by Nov. 30.

Niziolek, chair of the Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Committee, said the city would save approximately $6.39 million if the county took on emergency calls. He said cities typically have their own 911 systems, but there is a push to go regional to save money.

Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan said the county now handles calls for 21 law enforcement agencies and 19 fire departments and many other municipalities want to join. He said to be fair, the county has offered everyone the same deal to join up. "It would be a significant savings to Minneapolis," McGowan said.

However, Nizolek notes that the city recently received a $4 million Homeland Security grant that it planned to use to improve the system and get other cities to join its system, bringing in money.

Minneapolis Director of Emergency Communication John Dejung is skeptical that the county's offer would be no-cost but optimistic that the best plan will emerge. Other major cities have joined regional systems, but for a large city like Minneapolis it should be done as a merger and with plenty of due diligence, he said.

Costs and call load

Niziolek and Dejung said although the county's offer is attractive, there are fears service would decline.

Niziolek said that some fear service could be compromised since Hennepin County's system isn't used to the volume of calls Minneapolis handles.

McGowan said these concerns could hopefully be worked out with careful planning. "No one is saying that we can absorb Minneapolis (calls for service) in our system without more people," he said, adding that they'd likely look at hiring Minneapolis 911 employees.

Even so, Dejung is skeptical the county can really shoulder the city's burden at no charge. "It can't be free. I just don't see how they could do it" because the plan would double county staff and its call load, raising county costs.

McGowan insists that the county would pay for any consolidation needs such as technology, facilities and staffing.

Technology

There are also technological hurdles if the county and city's system is combined. McGowan said the county just upgraded its system and it would merge well with the city's technology. But Dejung said such system integration could be more complicated and must be analyzed.

Dejung said, as for now, the city's plans to upgrade its 911 system haven't changed.

Dejung said a 911 user's group and Police and Fire Department leaders have recommended that Minneapolis study the merger's logistics through 2005.

McGowan said he looks forward to meeting with city representatives. "We are only going to partner if it's in the best interests of public safety, and I believe it is," he said.