Vote on dispatch center is tonight

MARYSVILLE – The City Council will vote tonight whether or not to consolidate the city’s 911 dispatch center with SNOPAC, the call center that serves most of north Snohomish County.

The vote comes after weeks of negotiations and deliberations. The issue has caused tension between the city administration and the police union.

Members of Marysville’s law enforcement community are expected to oppose the move.

They are fighting to save the small, independent call center where some employees have worked for more than 20 years.

City officials said switching would put more officers on the street and save the city about $540,000 in the first year.

Marysville is the only city in Snohomish County that still has an independent call center. The rest are served by SNOPAC or SNOCOM, a smaller call center in the southern part of the county.

Cities and agencies around the state have merged call centers to save money when upgrading to new technology, Washington State Patrol spokesman Marty Knorr said.

“There has been a trend to consolidation. There are many centers like SNOPAC throughout the state,” he said.

Interim Marysville police chief John Turner agrees.

“Two years ago, Mercer Island felt it couldn’t afford to upgrade all the new technology on its own,” he said. “It was in their best interest to contract with their neighboring city (of Kirkland) to form a new dispatch center.”

Now, he said, Kirkland is working with Bellevue to form NORCOM, a regional center.

“It’s just more cost-efficient,” he said.

The State Patrol has consolidated 27 call centers to eight statewide, Knorr said.

Still, some critics say moving to SNOPAC will change the level of service officers and residents can expect.

SNOPAC, with about 13 dispatchers handling a large call volume, doesn’t offer personal service, critics said.

“It is a larger system, but they’re not as perfect as they want you to believe they are,” said Mark Wakefield, a retired Monroe police commander familiar with the situation.

He said SNOPAC is always short on positions and looking to hire. Employees also are required to put in overtime, he said.

SNOPAC currently has two openings out of a dispatch staff of 71, SNOPAC director Tom Howell said.

Howell confirmed that some overtime is required, but lots of voluntary overtime also is offered.

City administrator Mary Swenson said if the council approves the switch, Marysville dispatchers will be offered jobs at SNOPAC or elsewhere in the city.

She said the switchover likely would be completed by the end of the year or sooner.

The Marysville City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 tonight at City Hall, 1049 State Ave.

Details of the proposal before the City Council:

* Marysville would have its own police dispatch position in SNOPAC staffed by six dedicated dispatchers.

* Record keeping and jail monitoring currently done by Marysville dispatchers would shift to Marysville police records. That department would expand to about six employees and operate around the clock.

* The timetable for switching, if approved, is still under negotiation among the city, SNOPAC and the Marysville Police Officers Association, the police union.

* Marysville would have a voting seat on the SNOPAC board of directors.

Reporter Tieh-Pai Chen contributed to this story. Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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