By Jason Massad

Dunwoody city officials will wait until at least January to decide what to do about the city’s 911 service.

Officials are trying to decide the best way to handle the city’s police emergency calls: stay with DeKalb County, create their own system, or join ChatComm – a joint venture of Sandy Springs and Johns Creek.

City Manager Warren Hutmacher has recommended the city join ChatComm, in part, because of predictable costs and because dispatchers could be dedicated to field only the city’s emergency police calls.

Months of discussion have ensued about how to handle the situation. Recently, things took a new turn.

Dunwoody Councilmen Danny Ross and Denis Shortal recently met with Richard Stogner, chief operating officer for DeKalb County, along with key DeKalb public safety executives.

DeKalb has promised to provide Dunwoody with dedicated dispatchers for its police calls and a dedicated radio channel that officers communicate on in responding to crimes.

The improvements could be folded into the current public safety agreement between DeKalb County and Dunwoody. The city pays DeKalb with revenues it collects on phones that are charged fees for 911 service.

Councilman Ross said that the recent meeting with DeKalb County was promising.

“Well it certainly becomes more of an alternative,” Ross said. “Of course, the whole council has to vote on this, but I think it’s moving in the right direction.”

On Nov. 8, Dunwoody city officials decided at a regular work session to continue until at least the first of the year discussions on the best way to handle the city’s emergency police calls.

Dunwoody officials are looking for emergency dispatch service that will dedicate dispatchers to Dunwoody police calls, but not cost more than the city can afford.

Noah Reiter, assistant city manager for Sandy Springs said that Dunwoody joining ChatComm would create better response times for police emergencies in the local area, considering Dunwoody and Sandy Springs share a border.

It would also reduce the more than $900,000 annually Sandy Springs and John’s Creek spend to subsidize the system.

“If Dunwoody should join under the proposed cost of $1.2 million (per year), that cost includes a small buy down of the two cities’ general funds subsidies,” Reiter said.

Joining ChatComm would mean Dunwoody would have dispatchers dedicated to its police calls.

Estimates predict that having dedicated dispatchers through ChatComm would allow Dunwoody police calls to be answered in 10 seconds, 90 percent of “high priority” calls will be dispatched in 60 seconds and 90 percent of all police calls will be dispatched in 90 seconds, city documents say.

Officials estimate that Dunwoody starting up its own operations would cost more than $350,000 during the first year with annual operating expenses ranging between $1.3 million and $1.4 million between 2011 and 2014.

ChatComm, meanwhile, is estimated to cost $570,000 in start-up costs and is a fixed $1.2 million in operating costs from 2011 to 2014.

City officials expect annual revenues of $900,000 to $1.2 million to fund whatever service they choose.

Dunwoody starting up its own service has an element of financial risk, Hutmacher said. If Dunwoody were to experience flooding or a similar emergency, the city would be responsible for paying for additions to staff, overtime hours and other items.

Hutmacher said he expects the council to put the issue on the agenda in January.

“I think this is a very important decision that the council needs to make and it’s prudent for them to take the necessary time to make the decision,” he said.