Rep. Bell defends PSAP consolidation

Indiana Representative Matt Bell.  Courtesy photo.

Representative Matt Bell (R-81) defend PSAP consolidation in this morning’s Journal Gazette.

In 2008, the General Assembly enacted House Bill 1204, which states that after Dec. 31, 2014, a county may not contain more than two Public Safety Answering Points, commonly called an emergency dispatch center.

There are three PSAPs in Allen County: one operated by the city of Fort Wayne, one by the city of New Haven, and one by the Allen County Sheriff’s Department. Operating three PSAPs does not create a faster response to emergency calls, and it is certainly not an efficient use of tax dollars and revenues.

I voted for this bill because I believed, based on the testimony of career safety experts, that consolidating operations would not compromise response times or lead to increased jeopardy for local citizens. In fact, many who testified in support of the bill claimed that better coordinated services would represent a higher degree of public safety. On Jan. 15, 2008, the bill was heard in the Technology, Research, and Development Committee. According to House Republican records, not a single person testified against the bill.

I have not seen a single scrap of evidence that would support the claim that fewer PSAPs would lead to slower response times and a greater risk of loss of life. In fact, Kosciusko County, which consolidated in 2000, boasts a successful CPR safety response rate of 21 percent compared with a 6 percent national average. Tom Brindle, director of the Kosciusko County PSAP, told my staff that its ability to save more lives is in no small part because of the efficiencies created by consolidation because the call is handled by one person no matter what the location of the emergency or what departments are needed.

Operating multiple PSAPs represents a significant cost to local taxpayers. On average, it costs about $1 million to operate each PSAP. My research demonstrated that the city of Fort Wayne invests $4.1 million to operate its PSAP, while Allen County spends $2.2 million on PSAP services. My research also demonstrates that the city of New Haven invests roughly $249,000 on PSAP services. In the case of the city of Fort Wayne and Allen County, the operating costs are well above the average of $1 million. Continuing to avoid PSAP consolidation represents poor public policy even in a time of economic growth. Given the current recession, it is unconscionable to waste taxpayers’ dollars on redundant government entities.

The Kosciusko County PSAP has been able to save significant amounts of money from consolidation. Brindle told my staff that he has operated under the same budget since 2004. He was able to cut 25 percent from his budget this year by switching to a state 911 program. He also attributes $500,000 in savings from equipment, buildings and other overhead costs to Kosciusko County’s consolidation effort.

I voted for HB 1204 because it represented good public policy and a better use of taxpayer money. Eighty-three members of the Indiana House of Representatives supported the bill, including every member from northeast Indiana. Only 13 votes were cast against the bill in the House. When the bill was brought before the Senate for final passage, 47 members voted for the bill, and not a single vote was cast against it. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels on March 24, 2008.

For years, the glass wall that separates the city of Fort Wayne’s dispatch center from Allen County’s has been a shameful symbol of the lack of cooperation between the two parties. Locally, the protection of personal fiefdoms has trumped the best use of taxpayer dollars far too often. It is a legacy that we cannot be proud of, and it is a situation that we should not be content to live under any longer. It is well past time for our duly elected officials to put the best interests of their constituents ahead of any other concern. It is time, once and for all, to tear down that wall.


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