Thursday, May 27, 2010

Councilman Wittenstein wants your opinion on 911, are you willing to pay more?


Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,

On a personal note, I'd like to congratulate my son, Eric, on his graduation from Chamblee Charter High School. Eric will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall and Susan and I are very proud of him.

We have requested turnover of the parks property in accordance with the recent legislation passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Perdue. If all goes according to plan, we will assume ownership of Brook Run, Dunwoody Nature Center, Donaldson-Chesnut house, Dunwoody Park baseball fields, Windward Hollow and a couple of other smaller properties around June 18. We are excited about the opportunity and the challenge to begin investing in our parks properties. We are currently looking for a parks manager to work in our Public Works department.

We have received the property tax valuations from the county. The total value of our residential property in Dunwoody went down by 1.3%. Commercial property values were up about 2% and the result is that the value of property in Dunwoody is virtually unchanged from last year. In June, we will set our property tax rate for 2010 and we will leave it unchanged from last year--so no tax increase.

In June we will also consider whether to give DeKalb notice that we want to terminate our agreement for them to provide us with our 911 dispatch service. This is a big deal. DeKalb's 911 dispatch services have been uneven and inconsistent. It is clearly the weakest link in our emergency responder chain. Often DeKalb's 911 center answers quickly and dispatches efficiently. But at other times they have more incoming calls than they can handle and calls are put on hold for 1-10 minutes before a dispatch operator answers the call. This delays dispatch of police, fire and emergency medical.

This is a big deal because we can't bring this service in-house or afford to partner with another nearby city without committing approximately $400,000 in general operating funds. We can provide a much higher level of service but at a higher cost. If we funded this through property taxes, the average Dunwoody family would see their taxes rise by $22 per year in 2011.

Below is a link to an on-line survey. (It only has one question.) Please take a moment and give me your thoughts on this issue.

Take 911 on-line survey.

I will share the results in my next e-mail update. I am inclined to support this but with great caution. We do not want this to be the first of many requests to voters, "If you give us more money we can do all these wonderful things..." as it cannot become a habit. I believe strongly in living within our means and keeping government to a minimum. I also realize that all of us have suffered in this economic downturn and money is tight. All of that said, I think this is something we should consider because of its impact on our ability to provide emergency response when our residents need it most.

Finally, congratulations to Doug Thompson, our newest city council member. Doug replaces Tom Taylor who has resigned to run to represent Dunwoody in the Georgia House in the seat Fran Millar is vacating. Fran is running to replace Dan Weber in the Georgia Senate.

Regards,

Robert Wittenstein
(Note from John, please read this evaluation before you vote and remember that a Dunwoody 911 system will only directly communicate with our Police Department and that all other emergency calls will still need to be routed to DeKalb dispatch for Rescue and Fire Services.  The system will not be flawless, because of cell phone technology some calls near the borders will be answered by DeKalb, Sandy Spring and Gwinnett County 911 centers that will still need to be transferred to the correct location.

The City Council takes ultimate responsibility for the safety of the citizens and if we feel that we are not getting adequate protection we have the obligation to be looking at all options along with their financial ramifications.  Some say a 911 switch alone will be a big improvement while others say that we may need to also start our own Fire Department & Rescue EMS too.  All options are on the table, including some innovative ones that work well elsewhere and they are being studied from every angle.) 

Please take Robert's survey, write comments on the blog or e-mail me directly as I will not be making any hasty decisions and do value your input.  Thanks, John.

5 comments:

Chip said...

It's telling that the 2nd option includes the suggestion that we defer improving roads and infrastructure in lieu of raising taxes. This Council certainly goes out of its way to avoid the infrastructure issues......

One seriously has to ask... do we need to invest an additional $0.4MM for police services in Dunwoody on top of the roughly $6MM we dole out annually?

I make this assertion because a Dunwoody 911 center would only serve the police, directly, and then have to go through DeKalb 911 for fire and rescue. So what have we gained??

I wish this Council would step up to the plate on some real infrastructure improvement, stop hiding behind "straw men" that they create, and for gosh sake keep Rob W. off the TV!!!

(Why do we never see the Mayor speaking for the City, I wonder.)

Chip

Robert Wittenstein said...

Chip,
Sorry to disappoint. The request came to the mayor and he was unavailable (we got very little advanced notice). He asked me to fill in knowing that I work nearby. I fully realize my limitations and recognize that being the show-horse is not my forte.
Robert Wittenstein

Dunwoody Dad said...

Improving infrastructure??

It toook the council a year to determine that Dunwoody does not need, nor will accept, chickens in the backyard of residents.

Improving roads is far, far away. The greatest project that is going on in Dunwoody today is the high school renovation, and that nasty old Dekalb county is taking care of that for us.

P.S. For those wondering, I do not raise chickens nor do I really care to see them in the yard of a neighbor, but this city has far too many probelms to take up valuable time and money on such nonsense.

Rick said...

Robert,

You did fine on TV, Rock-Star like if I do say. Good to see you step up and say something.

Your point is noted that if we want our own 911 and Fire Services, we will need to increase taxes.

How long is the contract for 911 with DeKalb? If it's a one-year deal I think we should renew it. Sandy Springs and Johns Creek took a couple years to plan ChatComm.

I think it is too risky to try to get something up and running by the end of the year.

I think the city needs to think this through. While we would see improved police response times with our own 911, fire and EMS would have to go through DeKalb.

Over where you and I live, we are most likely to get Sandy Springs if calling from a cell phone. SOSS would need to transfer to Dun911 then on to DeKalb 911 (an extra step in the process in some calls).

I am not a fan of DeKalb 911, but I'm not a fan of canceling the contract until the city has a good plan in mind. I attend a lot of the meetings, but the 911 stuff seemed to have popped up out of nowhere the past month, and now we need to decide in a couple weeks?

TwoDogsTrucking said...

Dunwoody will generate between 37K and 38K calls to 911 this year. Averaging this out means an E911 center for Dunwoody will be handling about 4 or 5 calls per hour. To keep this new (in house) 911 center staffed will require approximately 10 additional city employees . The urgent need (justification) for a Dunwoody 911 system sounds eerily familiar to the urgent need for a Dunwoody Police. Well, Dunwoody’s finest have been operational for over a year but the same situations that existed prior to their debut still exist today and will continue to exist. The real world problems that affect DeKalb 911 will affect a Dunwoody 911. Unless Dunwoody way over staffs and buys far more infrastructure than is needed to handle its 4 or 5 calls an hour average then someone calling Dunwoody’s 911 will be placed on hold. Not to mention a Dunwoody 911 will be the 4th or 5th 911 center in a 3 mile stretch of 285. This will only add to the confusion of an emergency situation.
As for Chattcom, I’m not sure why joining an analog system is even being discussed and how could the 911 fees used to fund Chattcom be several million dollars off ? Was misinformation presented to the public in order to justify additional gov’t spending?
I’m assuming that the council member is speaking for all the council members/mayor/city with his statement that “DeKalb's 911 dispatch services have been uneven and inconsistent. It is clearly the weakest link in our emergency responder chain”. Okay,
DeKalb’s 911 has had some very public gaffs and the investigations are still on going but DeKalb 911 handled 1.4 million calls last year and what no one has mentioned is how many of those were correctly and efficiently handled. I’m sure a serious inquiry rather than a web poll or a 90 second local news story would show that errors were well with in operational norms for 911 centers nation wide.


If council members do decide on a Dunwoody 911 center or a partnership with Chattcom then the logical thing to do is immediately start forming a Dunwoody Fire Dept because none of the city’s assertions about the problems would remedied if Dunwoody 911 had to call DeKalb 911 for fire/rescue emergencies.
I think it would be a lot less expensive for the taxpayers if the council members would work with DeKalb on perceived problems with 911 rather than owning the problem. I think in the political world its better to Monday morning quarterback than to actually operate and fund a police/fire/911 operation for an area that has a daytime population of 200K on the property taxes of Dunwoody’s citizens. Also does anyone else think that Sandy Springs and John’s Creek are rethinking their offer of partnering if they’re likely to receive aspersions from Dunwoody if something were to go wrong at Chattcom?