The Dunwoody City Council moved a step closer to signing up ChatComm to field the city’s 911 emergency police calls, with four council members recently putting their support behind it.
ChatComm, a joint venture between Sandy Springs and Johns Creek, lowered their price to bring Dunwoody on board. The original offer was $1.2 million annually. That was lowered to $1,075,000 per year during recent discussions.
Dunwoody would also pay $570,000 in startup and equipment costs to join the privately operated service.
“Even if it cost more I’d be for it, now that it costs less it’s a no brainer,” Mayor Ken Wright said.
The Council discussed the issue at its work session Feb. 15, but can take no vote on the issue until at least Feb. 28 at the city’s next council session.
Wright and councilmen John Heneghan, Robert Wittenstein and Doug Thompson put their support behind ChatComm and agreed the city needed to soon make a decision on an issue that has dragged on for more than six months.
The council members followed the lead of Police Chief Billy Grogan.
Grogan and Warren Hutmacher, city manager, say they favor ChatComm because it measures performance standards like response times and has features not offered by DeKalb County, such as GPS tracking for police vehicles.
“The chief has recommended something and I’m loathe to second guess him,” Wittenstein said.
A subcommittee of the board, during the last few months, met with DeKalb County officials and hammered out an agreement that would dedicate dispatchers to the city’s police calls and also a radio channel.
The agreement would also allow DeKalb and Dunwoody officials to meet quarterly to discuss issues. Grogan said he was wary of an agreement with DeKalb, which has struggled to answer emergency calls promptly in the past.
“I don’t know if I have the confidence DeKalb will be able to deliver on their promises,” Grogan said.
At least two members of the board are squarely behind the DeKalb County proposal, which requires little money to sustain. Dunwoody would spend $135,000 during the next three years if it upgraded equipment, such as adding a silent dispatch system.
Other than that, there’s no financial risk. Currently, DeKalb County collects 911 fees for all of DeKalb County, including Dunwoody. City officials estimate that the revenues between $900,000 and $1.2 million pay for the current service.
Danny Ross and Denis Shortal said that they advocate sticking with the county for the enhanced service from DeKalb. Ross said that the county was improving operations by shrinking vacancies in the dispatch department.
“We’re going to continue to see improvements in DeKalb County,” Ross said.
The city bears some financial risk in picking ChatComm, which has been the source of much of the disagreement among council members.
The council “conservatively” estimates it will receive $900,000 per year in 911 fees. In that scenario, the city would spend $1.1 million to join ChatComm in three years.
If the city raised about $1 million more per year in 911 fees, the city’s cost over three years would come down to about $780,000 – in addition to the $570,000 in startup costs.
Wright, however, said that his support is more about the service than the money, adding that the city can’t expect DeKalb’s troubled dispatch service “to magically turn itself around.”