Officials in three Lexington County communities are asking for as much as another year to decide the future of their centers that handle local calls for emergency help.
That effort comes as county officials press Batesburg-Leesville, Cayce and West Columbia to decide soon whether to merge their centers into the county operation or pay much more to remain independent.
Their decision looms as county financial assistance for the three centers is set to end July 1.
The delay sought could push back any change until mid-2016.
Officials at the state agency that oversees 911 service want to make sure local officials aren’t rushed into a decision after being told of the county aid cut-off in August.
“They’ve come to us expressing concerns,” said Frank Rainwater, executive director of the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.
Agency officials want to be comfortable that all changes are workable before approval is considered for both the county plan and those from any community keeping its center.
“It would be hard to support any change that leaves a gap in existing operations,” Rainwater said. “Our goal to to make sure there is comprehensive coverage.”
Retaining local centers means adding staff and equipment for each community.
Batesburg-Leesville is “facing a tough challenge” in trying to decide which route is best for service and affordability, town manager Ted Luckadoo said.
Cayce officials likewise call the choice a dilemma, particularly in making sure dispatching equipment can be added in time if city leaders decide to keep their center open.
“It’s certainly not ideal circumstances for us,” assistant city manager Shaun Greenwood said. “It would help to have extra time to explore the options.”
West Columbia is “leaning toward” keeping its center open as it assesses the price and response expected, city administrator Jennifer Cunningham said.
Cayce’s center handles local calls for police and firefighters while those in the other two communities do so only for police. County officials handle all calls for ambulances and medical care.
Changes are coming after county officials decided a 21-year-old deal that allowed the three communities to run separate 911 centers is now outdated duplication.
Overseeing the local centers costs more than $200,000 annually that county officials say should go for improvements in their service.
Currently, county officials update maps, handle training, make reports to state agencies and perform other management tasks for the local centers.
Each community pays for its 911 staff, with dispatchers usually performing clerical tasks as well.
The county team solely deals with directing response to calls for help in unincorporated areas and 11 other municipalities.
By the county’s tally, its center handled more than 94 percent of 353,000 telephone calls for service last year.
That compares to 3.5 percent in West Columbia, 2 percent in Cayce and a half-percent in Batesburg-Leesville in that period.
The three communities are home to about 35,000 of the county’s estimated 270,000 residents.
Meanwhile, officials in Irmo backed off establishing a center, after deciding it’s a move estimated to cost $1.4 million extra yearly that is unlikely to deliver faster response.
Confusion sometimes occurs among 911 dispatchers, since the town of 12,000 residents straddles the Lexington-Richland County border.
“We can’t accomplish any more,” Mayor Hardy King said. “We would spend a lot and wouldn’t provide any better service.”