by Eren Tataragasi

CORNELIUS – The town will keep its 911 call center open, despite losing its funding partners.

To the relief of about 30 residents packed into town hall Monday, Feb. 6, commissioners voted unanimously to keep the center open, committing themselves to maintaining the center while continuing to seek other partnership options to help reduce the town’s cost.

“911 is at the top of our priorities,” Mayor Jeff Tarte said. “Public safety is, bar none, our number one priority. This is common sense.”

The commissioners’ vote Monday followed a presentation police Chief Bence Hoyle made two weeks ago, recommending the town maintain its 911 call center rather than consolidating with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.

The town has operated its call center since 1992 and has partnered with the Davidson and Huntersville police departments and Davidson College campus Police. The Davidson Police Department has since gone back to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and the Huntersville Police Department gave notice in the fall that it was considering moving its call center to the Charlotte police to save money.

Chief Hoyle said he understood Huntersville’s reasons for leaving, but said it wouldn’t be a cost-saving measure for Cornelius to shut down, since consolidating with Charlotte-Mecklenburg would mean having to close the police department at night, getting rid of the department’s breathalyzer because it’s only for 24/7 departments, and losing the level of service and quick response time.

And it’s that level of service that made several residents speak out in support of the 911 center Monday night.

Nelson Rogers, who’s lived in north Mecklenburg county for 54 years said he’s seen Charlotte “whittle away” at small towns’ identities, and consolidating the town’s 911 center with Charlotte’s, would do just that.

“There’s no way you can sell this to me that they’re going to look out for us the way our people will look out for us,” Rogers said. “It’s never happened with schools or utilities. We have our own animal shelter, we should have our own 911 call center.”

Gene Irvin, who has lived in Cornelius for 51 years and worked at the dispatch center, said the board would also be wise to remember, if they consolidated with Charlotte-Mecklenburg, they’d lose money from the state, given to towns for being a primary public safety answering point.

“Do what’s best for the citizens of Cornelius and keep our 911 center, regardless of how you fund it,” Irvin said. “It’s got to stay here. You don’t want to be set to a backburner, and that’s what will happen if you make that change. These dispatchers care about the people that live in our city.”

Resident Gary Knight followed, saying since residents can’t trust the county already, Cornelius should not cede more power.

“How can we rely on a city that can’t bill our water correctly and a county that can’t correctly appraise our homes?” he asked.

While Commissioner Dave Gilroy wanted to keep the town’s options open and delay a decision, Chief Hoyle implored commissioners to make a decision Monday so as to reassure the 911 dispatchers they still had jobs.

“The chief is looking for a commitment from us to plan for the future and retain the staff we’ve spent money to train,” said commissioner Chuck Travis. “I’d like to hear some level of commitment that we’ll continue with it and if we’re committed, we’ll gain some partners because we are showing that we are committed to this center.”

Huntersville closer to 911 deal with Charlotte police

Huntersville Police Chief Phil Potter said he hopes to have a contract to reroute the town’s 911 calls to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police within 30 days.

Potter said Wednesday, Feb. 8, attorneys are currently working out the details on the deal and are in the due diligence phase. Switching from the Cornelius 911 call center to the Charlotte one will save Huntersville about $2 million over a 10-year period. Once the deal is finalized, the town board will have a chance to approve it.

Huntersville initiated the split from Cornelius’ call center in November and, barring no hiccups with Charlotte police, should route all of its 911 calls to Charlotte by July 1.