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Battle between Ocala and Marion County over 911 dispatch center coming to a head

A nasty fight is brewing between Marion County and the City of Ocala over the county’s consolidated 911 system – and it appears that it will come to a head later this month.

On Sept. 24, Sheriff Billy Woods sent a letter to Marion County Commission Chair Michelle Stone and Ocala City Council President Pro-Tem Jay Musleh stating that his agency intended to withdraw from the interlocal Public Safety Communications agreement on Oct. 1, 2020.

Ocala and Marion County leaders are at odds over the 911 services provided by the 15,244-square-foot 911 Communications Center, which is located at 2710 E Silver Springs Blvd. in Ocala.

Woods said he had carefully reviewed a recent assessment prepared by a consultant, Mission Critical Partners, which was hired by the county to analyze the issues with communications center. He clearly wasn’t comfortable with the assessment’s recommendation that all of the agency’s involved in the agreement – the sheriff’s office, Marion County Rescue and Ocala Fire Rescue – give management more time to iron out issues, which have been identified in the past as missed 911 calls and medical responses to incorrect addresses, among other things.

Woods said the issues involved with the communications center, which was formed in 2011 to dispatch calls for the three agencies – the Ocala Police Department kept its own dispatch system – have led to “mistrust of the stakeholders” with the current management of the agency.

“These issues (have) really only resulted in one thing and that is a shortfall of the service to our citizens, which is unacceptable in my eyes,” wrote Woods, who also has made it clear that giving his office more control over the center, which is now directed by Marion County Fire Rescue, could result in him having a change of heart.

Meanwhile, the city of Ocala sent a letter to the county dated Feb. 25 expressing its plan to end the agreement with the communications center on Sept. 30 because it had “failed to meet on a consistent basis the standards for emergency dispatch communications” the city expected for Ocala Fire Rescue, as well as performance data on a regularly scheduled basis.

The 911 Communication Center takes and dispatches 911 calls for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Marion County Fire Rescue and Ocala Fire Rescue, which appears on the verge of pulling out of the agreement.

On March 20, the city sent a second letter indefinitely suspending its original termination letter based on assurances from the county that the “failures are being addressed and remedied.” But that letter warned that the city retained the right to rescind the suspension at any time and reinstate the notice of termination.

On Tuesday, during the county commission’s regularly scheduled meeting, Commissioner Kathy Bryant appeared exasperated that Woods and the city of Ocala refused to follow the consultant’s recommendation to “take a step back and take a break.” Commissioner Carl Zalak, who appeared equally as frustrated, pointed out that the county’s communications center is accredited, while the Ocala Police Department’s center – which appears on the verge of taking over dispatching services for Ocala Fire Rescue – is not.

The Ocala City Council plans to hold a workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 8 to discuss the ongoing issue. On Tuesday night at its regularly scheduled meeting, Mayor Kent Guinn, who has oversight of the police department, warned City Manager John Zobler that the county commission would be pressuring him to attend a workshop it is having on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Photos in Ocala, Florida

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