A top aide to Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday that the city wants to bring all operators at its 911 center under one agency by Jan. 1.
Orleans Parish Communication District leaders said that may be impossible due to state law enabling public participation in governmental budgeting.
Although all 911 operators work at the same call center located by the cemeteries on Canal Blvd., they’re employed by the city’s three emergency response agencies: police, fire and EMS. Each agency handles its own calls.
In order to improve response times, the city has sought for years to move all operators into a single agency and have them handle any type of call.
That will require extensive training and new policies. In order to speed up the transition, Landrieu in April transferred former Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Col. Jerry Sneed out of the Mayor’s Office and made him an advisor on consolidation.
“I have set an ambitious goal of 1 January for consolidation,” Sneed said at a communication district board meeting Tuesday. By then, he said, operators should be able to take all calls, if not yet dispatch all three agencies.
The Communication District must quickly hire two employees to make that deadline: a human resources manager and a training coordinator, according to Sneed and an accompanying letter from First Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.
In the letter, Kopplin says that the hires won’t impact the communication district’s 2015 budget, funded by fees on landlines and cell phones. Instead, the city will forego about $444,000 that the agency was expected contribute to operator salaries.
“This funding source should provide OPCD [the communication district] with sufficient funding for these positions through the end of this year,” Kopplin wrote.
In an interview after the meeting, Sneed said he wasn’t sure how much the two new employees would be paid.
The proposal to approve the new positions wasn’t on Tuesday’s agenda and came as a surprise to communication district staff. Executive Director Stephen Gordon told The Lens that Kopplin’s letter arrived less than an hour before the meeting.
The necessary board approval could take months.
During the meeting, OPCD Deputy Director Frith Malin said that because Kopplin’s proposal would affect nearly 10 percent of the agency’s $4.5 million budget this year, state law requires the board to formally amend its budget. The amendment may even have to be approved by the City Council, she said.
Malin said that it may have to wait even beyond the next communication district board meeting, scheduled for September, because its bylaws require such proposals to be held over for one meeting. That means the board couldn’t amend the budget and approve the new hires until November.
Sneed told The Lens that would jeopardize the city’s timeline, adding that the board can call a special meeting to vote on the matters. Sneed said he wasn’t sure how much time the new employees would need to prepare for consolidation.
“The more time we have to work on things, the better off we’re going to be,” Sneed said.
Dr. James Aiken, sitting in for LSU hospital board member Dr. Juzar Ali, said he was concerned that the Landrieu administration is pressing forward without input from the communication district. Aiken proposed that Sneed and other city officials meet with communication district staff before moving ahead. The board approved his proposal unanimously.
“I’m not hearing that this letter came from a shared effort,” Aiken said. “I think it’s our responsibility to at least advise and be part of the process.”