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Broward needs a new 911 center, leaders agree. But where should it be built?

Broward taxpayers are likely to fund a new facility to house the county’s 911 dispatch center. But finding the right location, in part, could hinge on who would retain oversight of the services.

Sheriff Gregory Tony appealed to county commissioners Tuesday with his proposal for a seven-story parking garage, a four-story, 62,750-square-foot building housing a 911 call center and an 11,800-square-foot, on-site day care for up to 100 children of Sheriff’s Office employees. About 85% of the employees are women, Tony said.

He wants the new complex to be built alongside the sheriff’s headquarters and a new training center in Fort Lauderdale that could open within months at 2601 W. Broward Blvd.

He said his vision would consolidate the county’s three “Public Safety Answering Points,” call centers located in Coconut Creek, Pembroke Pines and Sunrise, to become the “lifeline for two million people” when callers reach out to 911 for emergency help.

“If a tragedy strikes” and the 911 buildings couldn’t withstand it, “we’re going to find ourselves repeating mistakes of the past,” Tony told county leaders. A new, consolidated building with access to the training center could hold up in a crisis, he said.

And he said a consolidated area will help his office communicate better. “We cannot continue to operate out of three different PSAPs,” Tony said, and retrofitting buildings doesn’t make sense. “We have a helluva chance to get this one right.”

County records show his proposal could cost an estimated $86.5 million. “The funding is there,” Tony told commissioners, pointing to multimillion-dollar projects recently completed or underway such as a new courthouse, a convention center and a pending new county government center.

County Administrator Monica Cepero said Tuesday the county administration has long considered building a new 911 call center, but they want it in Plantation, on the campus off Broward Boulevard and Pine Island Road that now houses the Emergency Operations Center, West Regional Library, the west courthouse and a bus terminal. The location could face lesser effects of storm surge and the impact of hurricanes, said Michael Ruiz, the county’s assistant county administrator.

And, they want a backup 911 center as an emergency Plan B, at a building under construction that is slated to house the Broward County Property Appraiser’s office and accompanying Value Adjustment Board, as well as Regional 911 Emergency Services and Communications, in Fort Lauderdale. That center could open as early as 2025 and that would immediately close the 911 center that works out of Coconut Creek.

Now, county commissioners said the issue could come down to control. If the county ever wanted to sever the contract with the Sheriff’s Office to run the 911 service — an idea briefly considered in 2022 — having the site on the sheriff’s campus would prevent them from doing so.

The 911 emergency centers are managed by the county but staffed and operated by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

In recent years, as problems came up, such as technological gaps to staffing issues that caused delays when callers try to get through to a 911 operator, the county briefly considered ending the contract, only to reach an agreement at the last minute.

That followed a string of high-profile woes. A series of South Florida Sun Sentinel investigative articles in the spring detailed how callers frantically dial 911, and some calls were going unanswered because of understaffing. County officials approved money to hire more 911 operators.

Commissioner Steve Geller remembers when the county was “seriously considering outsourcing it.”

“I believed at the time, and I still believe it should be the sheriff (running it) as long as he’s doing a good job, and the sheriff recently has been doing a good job, but you never know what would happen in the future,” Geller said after the public discussion.

“The Sheriff wants (the location to be the) Sheriff’s Office complex, which would cement the sheriff’s control. If we needed to change, and I don’t think we will, but if we needed to change, we couldn’t,” he said.

He also remembers Tony making an unsuccessful effort — for which the sheriff got support from a state safety panel — to take over the 911 system entirely, removing the county from the picture. The sheriff had argued at the time that the community would be best served by “one entity” handling the oversight, and the Sheriff’s Office should be that public safety agency.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, the panel created to investigate the school shooting, agreed, and asked Broward County to hand over its troubled 911 system to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The county declined.

“I mean, I’m willing to predict” if the county allowed the 911 center to be built at the headquarters, “within a year he’ll be asking” for the operational control as well again, Geller said.

But the county’s position is it should be located on the campus of the emergency operations center, 201 NW 84th Ave., as a backup in case of “lightning, a terrorist attack, whatever. There’s got to be a backup somewhere.”

Commissioner Mark Bogen said after the public discussion that the decision will come down to cost and what’s in the best interest of public safety. Those answers “is what we should do,” he said.

Commissioner Michael Udine said “all parties need to get themselves on the same page. The overall safety of our residents is paramount.”

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at moc.lenitnesnus@hsairuhl. Follow on X, formerly Twitter, @LisaHuriash

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