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Munhall dispatch to switch to county 911 by end of May

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 4:46 a.m.

Munhall plans to shut down its emergency dispatch center by the end of May, but the pending move to Allegheny County 911 still doesn't have the full support of borough officials.

Council voted 6-1 on Wednesday to close the dispatch by May 31 or earlier if all contingency plans for the transition to 911 are covered. Councilman Joe Ballas was the lone opponent.

But Mayor Ray Bodnar, an outspoken supporter of Munhall's dispatch, made it clear how he would've voted if given the chance.

“Passing this motion, in my opinion, is a big mistake by this council,” Bodnar said. “We've been with this system since 1987 and you compromise the total safety of our public. Munhall offers superior service in dealing with the public.”

Although the vast majority of Allegheny County municipalities already have made the switch to county 911, Bodnar repeatedly pointed to West Mifflin and Monroeville, where local dispatches still function.

“Aren't our residents as important as those in West Mifflin and Monroeville?” Bodnar said. “I think so. They feel their dispatchers protect them the best and we need to also keep our superior service. If it's about money, budgets can always be modified.”

Councilman Joe Ballas agreed with Bodnar.

“I know what we have here in the borough and I've seen how County 911 works,” Ballas said. “But the one thing I haven't heard is how this move is going to be a money-saver. It seems like we're cutting off our feet because we can't afford shoes.”

Council president Dan Lloyd said the immediate savings come from eliminating a duplication of services provided by county 911 that residents already pay for in their monthly phone bills, and also in cutting down on employee benefits and pensions.

“Tonight we had to vote to pay $575,000 in pension benefits and we had another $580,000 minimum municipal obligation for pensions in 2014,” Lloyd said. “Our workers' compensation over a two-year period is close to $600,000 and our benefits cost $90,000 a month. We can sit on our hands and pretend like our financial future is secure, but it isn't. You can't ignore a couple hundred thousand dollars in savings for a service we all already pay for.”

Lloyd said the borough currently employs four full-time dispatchers but they're all union members and will be offered positions with the public works department.

Councilman Rob Falce pointed out that the transition has been under way for months, and the borough had to purchase new equipment for its police and fire departments to function effectively under the county system.

“What about the $100,000 that has already been spent on new radios?” Falce said. “I think our dispatch provides a great service, but I don't think there's anything else we can do at this point. We need to just move forward.”

Councilman Bernie Shields added that there will always be those spouting “gloom and doom,” but he firmly believes the transition to 911 will be in the best interest of the borough.

“We're moving into a state-of-the-art emergency 911 center — something we can never keep up with because our technology isn't even close,” Shields said. “We do have great employees and it was a long haul, but most people here don't even know we're not already part of 911. Everything will be fine.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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