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Successful Collaboration Prompts Counties to Explore More Partnerships

Manatee and Sarasota administrators will explore partnerships in emergency radio communications, public transportation and criminal justice issues.

After a string of presentations on Manatee and Sarasota counties' most successful collaborations — tourism, sports marketing and the airport — Commissioners from both counties on Tuesday agreed to have their administrators explore the possibility of even more partnerships.

In a joint county meeting commissioners from both counties agreed that the county administrators should explore options for more consolidated services between Manatee and Sarasota counties.

At the top of the list is a regional radio system for emergency communications. Both counties are at the . Currently, Sarasota and Manatee counties have two different types of radio systems, which largely prevent them from communicating with one another.

The counties have figured out a work around that will allow them to communicate in a major storm, but it is not an ideal solution.

Public safety leaders from both counties have been meeting for months now to design a consolidated plan for the two counties. They found that by working together the counties could save money and would qualify for more grants.

Those leaders want to hire a consultant to help figure out all of the logistics associated with the costs and with merging the two departments, but at least some county commissioners were hesitant about hiring a consultant, at least until after the current team took a look at counties that have already merged operations.

The discussion came after presentations from convention and visitors bureaus from both counties, economic development corporations and the . All of the cooperating agencies said that they were excelling as teams and that by bringing in revenues as a team, both counties were doing better than expected in a tough economy.

Those discussions set the backdrop for the regional radio plan. While at least some commissioners seemed open to the idea, it will be at least two years before a radio system could be up and running, according to Bill Hutchison, public safety director for Manatee County, who presented an overview of the plans.

In addition to a regional radio, several commissioners on Tuesday seemed interested in merging the bus systems for the two counties, or at the very least expanding the routes between the two counties. They also agreed to have administrators discuss ways to enhance cooperation on criminal justice issues and concerns.

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