Editorial: Do-over for 911 talks?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

Let’s rewind the tape on the city-county 911 center discussion and start all over again. The city of Salisbury and Rowan County ought to be able to communicate better than they appeared to last week.
County Manager Gary Page asked Doug Paris, interim city manager, if the county should include space for more dispatchers in the new county 911 center in the event the city wanted to co-locate its 911 center there or consolidate services. City Council took this as an unwelcome rush toward consolidation, questioned the wisdom of the county’s plan and expressed dissatisfaction with services the county has already taken over: fire dispatching and animal control.
There’s more backstory to the controversy, and city and county leaders have a history of being on a different wavelength anyway. But the conversation is well worth starting over, perhaps face-to-face. Lean times call for rethinking some services. Consolidation certainly seems worthy of study to city taxpayers — whose money is already helping to build the county 911 center, since they are county taxpayers, too.
Council has good reason to take some time with consolidation. It is far from a no-brainer. City residents pay an additional layer of taxes in order to get a higher level of service. They like to save money as much as the next person, but they expect city garbage and trash pickup, city-level police and fire protection, water and sewer services and so on. Even in a small city like Salisbury, urban living requires different services than rural living.
That’s not arrogance — though it may come across that way to people outside the city. It’s a matter of necessity.
If the city and county could revisit the 911 center issue and truly talk it over, they might reach a better understanding of what the county is offering at this moment — which appears to be prospective space — and whether or when the city would have to commit to consolidation. Council members may not be fully aware of past conversations on this issue.
One side effect of this city-county 911 miscommunication is the spotlight it shines on the county’s animal control services. Residents on both sides of the city limits report very slow response times; the department is clearly overwhelmed and has been for a long time. The county should take a look at that.
In the meantime, City Council should weigh the cost of restarting the city animal control service versus the real benefit. City residents may have expressed some dissatisfaction, but are they dissatisfied enough to pay more?