- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

Omaha World-Herald. March 13, 2014

Merger could save money

Douglas and Sarpy Counties, the heart of the metro Omaha area, account for more than a third of Nebraska’s people.

But Sarpy County’s growth over the past decade has at times outpaced the ability of public services to keep up.

So it was hardly a surprise when its local 911 service was found wanting.

What did surprise was the size of the gap that a 2013 World-Herald investigation discovered - that Douglas County 911 callers saw their emergency calls dispatched a full minute sooner than 911 callers in Sarpy.

Gaps that large can put lives at risk.

People who live in Papillion, Bellevue, La Vista and Gretna need timely access to the same quality of emergency communications that residents of Omaha and Douglas County enjoy. Sarpy County taxpayers pay taxes to receive good service.

The Sarpy County Board was smart to follow The World-Herald’s investigation with a study. As its facts pour in, they appear to tilt toward the benefits of a merger of emergency communication services with Douglas County.

There are now 20 million reasons to pursue a merger. That’s the estimated five-year savings for taxpayers in both counties that consolidation could bring, along with improved 911 service for Sarpy County, according to a draft report on a possible merger.

An earlier group found that merging the counties’ two 911 centers could save Douglas and Sarpy County taxpayers about $2 million a year. A merger also could prevent Sarpy from having to build a new $7.5 million communications center.

As often happens when merger talks get serious, some Sarpy employees are worried about their jobs. The hard work of public employees is always appreciated, but loyalty to them and their needs should not supersede loyalty to taxpayers. The first duty to taxpayers is always to provide the best service at the least possible cost.

The county’s 911 study identified several management challenges the Sarpy 911 center faces. Those won’t be cheap or easy to fix, not in a growing area. Among the paths forward the report identified, full merger makes the most sense.

Regardless, Sarpy County taxpayers face a choice: Pay more for a level of 911 service that could improve if officials address management shortcomings. Or pay less for the proven quality already enjoyed in Douglas County.

Seems like an easy answer, with Douglas and Sarpy counties already growing together in a number of ways. It makes sense for local governments to cooperate, especially when doing so is as good for public safety as it is for the public purse.

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