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Yellowknife city council nixes 911 privatization

When 911 comes to town, council would like the dispatch service to remain under the City of Yellowknife umbrella.

At Monday's municipal services committee meeting, senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett presented council with three options for dispatch service: contract out to either a public or private sector provider within the North, contract to a southern company, or to continue to deliver the service through the City of Yellowknife.

Across the board, council was in favour of keeping the service in-house.

While Bassi-Kellett said administration had attempted to keep their report as neutral as possible for the benefit of council, she added that they did have “thoughts” on the issue.

“In doing the cost-benefit analysis around this, our preliminary estimates show that there could potentially be a small cost saving that could be realized through privatization,” she said, adding administration acknowledges there is risk to having a private model.

One risk, she mentioned, is with a for-profit model, public interest is not always the top priority.

According to administration's analysis, the total cost for keeping the service, including four dispatchers and one supervisor, office space and equipment would be $484,300, if dispatch was a city service. If taken over by a Yellowknife-based private contractor, the total cost would be $458, 947, creating a savings of $25,353.

But the economic juice comes with a moral squeeze. The cost estimate for a private contractor includes a 15-per-cent profit margin, and reduces personnel costs by axing benefits that would be provided to the employees under a city contract by $94,900.

The report also includes references to other cities, especially in America, who have privatized similar services and seen a decline in quality.

Coun. Linda Bussey remarked that when the topic came up during budget deliberation, she heard the program needs to be better staffed and working conditions need to be audited.

“I think we need to keep it in-house,” she said. “I think people's safety and security is paramount and I think it should stay in-house.”

Right now, the city contracts garbage collection, trucked water and sewage and the public transit system to the private sector, and uses private firms for other services such as mobile fleet repairs and snow removal.

The City of Yellowknife Dispatch Centre operates out of the fire hall and reports to the deputy fire chief of operations. It employs four dispatchers and one supervisor.

During December's budget deliberations, council approved two more dispatchers with one to start in July, and the other approved for January, but this was delayed until council makes a decision on privatization. The total cost, once those two full-time staff are added, would be $626,300 for a full year. The centre dispatches emergency fire and ambulance and municipal enforcement, and checks on the status of municipal enforcement officers responding to calls on their own. Dispatchers also monitor the water and waste-water system for the department of public works.

Earlier this month, MACA presented the municipal services committee with its own idea of what 911 would look like in the city. They want the city to hire a total of 12 full-time staff as well as make renovations to the existing space. The cost would be shared between the city and territorial governments. MACA's plan would see 911 service roll out across the entire territory by 2019.

Coun. Shauna Morgan sees this as an opportunity for the city.

“I think we need to push further to improve the dispatch system,” she said. “I see that as a really positive step forward, and we should pursue that as opposed to turning around and going backwards at this point.”