The Broward Sheriff's Office is threatening to stop dispatching emergency calls in the city beginning at midnight.
The county and city are locked in a stare-down over who should pay the $5.7 million annual cost. Neither set aside money for the new budget year that begins Saturday, and now leaders are scrambling to figure out what to do, at least until a summit scheduled for next Thursday.
Both county and city officials are promising that residents don't need to worry that calls for help will go unanswered as a result of the dispute.
"I really don't know where this is going to go, but we will be out there doing our job and we will make sure our people can communicate and that calls are answered one way or another," Police Chief Frank Adderley said.
The county warned Fort Lauderdale a year ago that it must start paying for the dispatch operations. The city, though, didn't budge when it drew up its 2012 budget, insisting that the county is obligated to pay under a 16-year-old contract as well as state emergency management law.
County commissioners balked at coming up with the cash earlier this week when Sheriff Al Lamberti and city officials raised concern about the impending crisis.
"We're ready to pull out," Lamberti said Thursday. "Despite months of discussion, it's come down to the last minute with nothing resolved. It's a standoff."
BSO has a 75-person staff that works out of the Fort Lauderdale Police Station on Broward Boulevard answering 911 calls and then dispatching officers. The arrangement has come under fire as the county and cities face budget deficits caused by falling property tax rolls.
Pembroke Pines, Plantation and Margate recently demanded millions of dollars from the county to compensate them for what they consider unequal treatment when it comes to dispatch. The county had also been paying for 911 dispatch in Pompano Beach, but that ended when Lamberti renegotiated his contract with the city.
The 2010 warning to Fort Lauderdale was followed by another this spring. When the sheriff released his budget plan, he noted that it included no money for the city's 911 dispatch.
Fort Lauderdale officials discussed hiring consultants to help decide whether it would be better to staff the dispatch operations itself or pay the county to do so. But then in July, the city sent the county a letter saying the county had to keep paying under a 1995 deal that also discussed such issues as homeless in downtown.
"It was a unilateral and arbitrary decision by the county about the contract, and it doesn't work to say this is our position and it's done," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said.
According to the county, that contract has expired. County commissioners overwhelmingly say they aren't willing to pay for another year of dispatch and that Lamberti needs to find money within his new budget if he wants to continue paying.
"I am sick of being viewed by cities and by the state as the end-all-be-all of deep pockets, and we simply can no longer do this," County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs told Lamberti and the city this week.
A long-term solution could come with a task force considering the creation of a consolidated, regionwide dispatch system. That group should report to the county next month.