Auditor hired to study York County 911 Center has history of privatizing facilities
The company most recently tasked with sussing out operational shortcomings at the York County 911 Center has a history of privatizing such facilities, and the dispatchers' union worries the move could foreshadow things to come.
Last month, York County Commissioners approved a contract with New Jersey-based IXP Corp., a public safety management services company, to conduct a comprehensive audit of the 911 center's operations, management and more.
IXP has acquired six 911 centers in Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Georgia in the past four years. It also has made several bids that have failed or are still pending.
"It draws a great deal of concern," said Steve Mullen, director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. "I almost wonder why this is being done and why they're spending all this money on it — like it's some kind of political agenda for them to privatize then wash their hands of future problems that are there."
County officials stressed they aren't considering privatizing the center.
"We're well aware that IXP privatizes facilities, but that's not our concern at this point," county spokesman Mark Walters said. "The county hired them to conduct an audit on its facility and its operations."
Mullen has been critical of the more than $100,000 contract with IXP in the first place, noting dispatchers for years have been offering the county feedback on how to fix staffing, morale and mandated overtime issues without costing taxpayers a dime.
The $116,800 contract marks the third audit of the facility in two years, which combined have cost taxpayers $285,000.
County Commissioner Chris Reilly said the angst of union officials isn't well-founded. He cited the county's recent efforts to address the issue as evidence York County remains committed to running its 911 center.
"If the union is doing their job, there's no reason to be concerned," Reilly said. "We're just looking for an overall assessment."
IXP has made headlines more for taking over 911 centers than it has from site audits. It also touts privatization on its website.
"We believe now is the time for municipalities to do the right thing, to see things differently. Through the IXP lens," the website states. "The tipping point for local government services can be reversed by having a broad array of public safety services delivered more cost-effectively, more efficiently, and more professionally by IXP."
In 2018, police officers in Danbury, Connecticut, made more than 400 complaints in the first 18 months of IXP running the area's local call center, The News-Times reported.
A police officer later sued the company after he was beaten for more than a minute while IXP dispatchers struggled to get the information to nearby officers — but the lawsuit was withdrawn this past year.
IXP didn't respond on Thursday to requests for comment, nor did the officer's lawyer.
Union concerns: Mullen noted several problems with companies coming in to take over the government-run centers and turning them into a for-profit business, such as lower wages, less benefits and inferior pensions.
"(Privatization) is not good for the employees, and it's not good for the citizens either," Mullen said. "Sadly, privatization isn't always about what's in the best interest of the citizens, but rather what's politically expedient."
In local news reports in the areas in which IXP has acquired 911 centers, union representatives have consistently made complaints similar to Mullen's. On its website, IXP has criticized unions and the collective bargaining process, citing it as one reason for privatization.
"An interesting problem occurs when the overall cost and quality of 911 dispatch operations is driven by union-supported collective bargaining agreements," it reads. "Almost immediately, the targeted problems associated with the cost of personnel and quality of public service are attenuated due to political cycles, agendas, local nepotism, and the locally fueled outcry of fear, uncertainty, and doubt."
IXP dispatchers know just as much, if not more about local communities than the dispatchers at facilities that are run by municipalities, the company's website says.
The York Dispatch's initial Right-to-Know Law request for the contract with IXP was denied last month because it hadn't yet been signed. Another request was submitted Thursday, Feb. 14.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.