Ocala Fire Rescue chief plans to pull out of county’s 911 dispatch center

Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander

A potentially nasty battle between the City of Ocala and Marion County over the county’s consolidated 911 system took a turn Tuesday when Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander announced his intentions to pull out of the agreement.

Alexander, speaking in front of the City Council during a noon workshop, said he plans for his agency to begin using dispatch services provided by the Ocala Police Department beginning October 2020 – a move he estimates will save the city about $37,000 annually after initial setup costs and training.

Alexander’s decision, which received unanimous backing from the council members and Mayor Kent Guinn, leaves the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Marion County Fire Rescue as the agencies involved in the dispatch system. But Sheriff Billy Woods also plans to pull out of the agreement a year from now, according to a letter dated Sept. 24 that he sent to Marion County Commission Chair Michelle Stone and Ocala City Council President Pro-Tem Jay Musleh.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods

Woods said the issues involved with the communications center, which was formed in 2011 to dispatch calls for the three agencies, have led to “mistrust of the stakeholders” with the current management of the agency and have resulted in a “shortfall of the service to our citizens,” which he labeled as “unacceptable.” But the sheriff also left the door to remain a part of the organization if his office gained control over the dispatch center.

On Tuesday, Alexander cited a “whole range of issues” with the dispatch center – management problems, missed 911 calls and medical responses to incorrect addresses – among his reasons for wanting to make a change.

Council member Justin Grabelle said he was all in favor of the decision.

Justin Grabelle
Council member Justin Grabelle

“For me, it’s always been about giving the residents the best service that we can,” he said. “I think in order to do that, the buck has to stop here with us.”

Guinn said he was proud of the council members for making the decision to go with OPD dispatch but warned that they will be “inundated” with requests by county commissioners to reconsider, meet, talk, have a workshop together, etc.

“I will just tell you to mean what you say and say what you mean and stick to your guns,” Guinn said. “This ain’t the end of this; this is the beginning.”

Mayor Kent Guinn

A recent assessment on the issues plaguing the communications center, prepared by consultant Mission Critical Partners, suggested giving management more time to iron out the issues. That recommendation obviously didn’t set will with Woods or Alexander, a fact that clearly upset Commissioner Kathy Bryant at a recent meeting when she said she couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just “take a step back and take a break.”

Marion County commissioners are planning to hold their own workshop on the issue on Oct. 29 and were hoping city leaders would be willing to attend and talk about keeping everyone involved in the dispatch center. City Council members agreed Tuesday that they’d be willing to attend the workshop – but only to discuss the dissolving the partnership.