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Columbia County / Lake City Combined Communications War Continues: The people lose.

Mayor Witt explains the City's position: "The time is set for us to go our separate ways."

LAKE CITY / COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  In 2006, then Columbia County Sheriff, Bill Gootee began the task of combining the County's dispatch services: fire, sheriff, and EMS. At that time Sheriff Gootee told the County, "The more public safety and public service users are on the same system means better public safety for all." Seven years later, the clashing of heads between Lake City and Columbia County continued with nobody listening, as the Columbia County/Lake City combined dispatch concept is headed for the scrap heap. Last night, Lake City continued on its course to go it alone, once they upgrade their fire dispatch so they can.

Lake City Mayor Steve Witt opened the conversation, "We have received a couple of letters from the County. There has been some discussion lately about continued fire dispatch and combined communications. They’ve [County] had a discussion about what they’d like to do. I guess we need to respond."

Councilwoman Melinda Moses had nothing to say.

Councilwoman Melinda Moses addressed the issue. "At this point I have no comment. I don’t want to do anything. Nothing that I’ve read draws me to make a decision tonight, on anything."

Councilman Ward got right to the point. "The real issue tonight for us to discuss whether or not we want to continue with combined communications. The City has been very capable, for as long as I can remember, dispatching our own police department. I don’t see why we can’t dispatch our own Fire Department too, if push comes to shove."

The County currently dispatches all fire calls through the combined dispatch center.

Councilman Ward repeated the City's long standing complaint regarding many issues between the City and County. "It seems to me that the City has been left out in the cold on a lot of the decisions."

Councilman Ward continued, "We are preparing now to be ready as soon after October 1st as possible to be able to do both fire and police dispatch on our own. I think we need to keep going down that road."

Backup PSAP: a big bone of contention

PSAP: Public Safety Answering Point. When you dial 911, this is who answers the phone.

Councilman Ward addresses the Council as Mayor Witt listens and City Clerk Audrey Sikes keeps the record.

Councilman Ward and other City officials were miffed about the location of the backup PSAP, which was originally scheduled to be in the Lake City Public Safety Building.

Councilman Ward: "The County originally agreed that the backup PSAP would be in the Police Department. It’s already a hardened building. It already has communications. Now they want to go build another building somewhere at the cost of I don’t know how many millions and put in a whole new backup PSAP."

"As a taxpayer, I don’t understand it. As a County taxpayer I pay County taxes just like you all do. I don’t understand why that when we already had something that was perfectly workable we are being pushed out of the way. It doesn’t make any sense to me."

Mayor Witt: "Time to go our separate ways."

Mayor Witt told the Council, "To me combined communications means fair and equal partners and we all have a say... In four or five years I don’t know that I’ve been invited to but a couple of meetings where it was ever discussed. We are just sitting down and they are saying -- this is what we’re gonna do. I’m not really sure of what their idea of combined communications is."

The Mayor continued, "The time is set for us to go our separate ways. I think there should still be discussions between the City Manager, the County and the Sheriff’s Department."

Councilman Ward mentioned that the City was going to be on ring down. This means they will not be receiving emergency dispatch calls as they are received.

City Manager Wendell Johnson weighs in

City Manager Johnson gave the Council in his words, "food for thought." He said, "Being that Columbia County has established October 1st as the deadline for both the automatic and mutual aid inter local agreement to be terminated, and also for the City to become an independent dispatch for our Fire Department, that maybe a [in] consideration of those major issues -- just step back and let's wait and see how this revolves from the County side."

City Manager Johnson was concerned about the County’s plans to change radio dispatch to an 800 MHz radio system. “They’re negotiating that now and have planned to do that in the not too distant future... This is going to cost the County about $8,000,000."

CM Johnson voiced concern about the cost to the City to upgrade their equipment. He said he saw this as a reason to just “sit tight and think about it.”

CM Johnson also mentioned that the County was anticipating major changes in their fire department and that he thought it would be a good idea to wait until those changes were completed for the City to sit down with the County and discuss combined communications.

Mr. Johnson said, "I see this as a logical reason just to sit tight."

The City Council agreed.

Mr. Johnson recommended that the City ask that the County "continue as we are doing today to continue to dispatch our Fire Department and to leave automatic aid in place."

Mr. Johnson added, "I've never worked anywhere where there has not been an automatic aid agreement between the County Seat and the County Fire Department. The reason is -- it's the right thing to do."

After there were complaints about not being able to hear what the City Manager was saying, Mayor Witt summed up the City's position.

"It is to leave the status quo the way it is. Leave the dispatch the way it is. Leave the automatic aid the way it is and we will continue improving our system; they'll continue improving their system; we'll keep talking and see where we'll go.


Nobody's been talking or listening for a long time and this is how the situation has gotten where it is and it is getting worse. The people lose.

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