County Sheriff Wants More Departments to Pay for 911 Dispatching

The Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Department dispatches for police and fire services in several jurisdictions, including five that it wants to start paying for receiving 911 dispatch services to help support its budget.

by Denise G. Callahan, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio / January 16, 2019
In this March 15, 2018, file photo a dispatcher works at a desk station with a variety of screens used by those who take 911 emergency calls in Roswell, Ga. The Roswell call center is one of the few in the United States that accepts text messages. Most places in the U.S. don’t have access to text-to-911 services, an increasingly crucial gap during an era of mass shootings and other catastrophes, when a phone call is not always an option. AP

(TNS) — The Butler County Sheriff’s Office wants five communities to begin paying for emergency dispatch services it already provides them to support the $4 million dispatch budget this year.

The county budgeted $1.5 million in fees from Hamilton and Oxford in 2019 and plans to collect an estimated $1.2 million more this year by charging five entities that run their own police departments new dispatch fees.

The sheriff’s office is talking to Fairfield, Oxford and Ross townships and the villages of New Miami and Seven Mile to work out dispatch billing.

The sheriff’s department dispatches for police and fire services in all of these areas and the smaller jurisdictions countywide where it also provides police protection.

Liberty Twp. pays the sheriff’s office about $3 million annually to police the township, a contract that includes dispatching. Fairfield, Middletown, Monroe, Trenton and West Chester Twp. have their own dispatch centers.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said the county’s 911 plan allows the dispatch fees, and his office has tried to come up with a formula that spreads the cost of the service equitably.

“We took a fresh look at, statistically, what’s the best way to look at the impact that these entities have on the dispatch operation?” Dwyer said. “We think we’ve got a good formula that’s fair for everyone.”

When Hamilton faced a $5 million budget deficit several years ago, officials made a deal for the county to take over dispatching for the county’s largest community. The city’s 2013 budget for dispatch was $1.39 million. The negotiated cost for the sheriff’s office to take over the service was $902,103 in 2014.

Under the agreement, Hamilton paid the county 5 percent more from 2015 to 2018 to account for increased maintenance fees, personnel costs, and system upgrades. Now the increases are based on the consumer price index.

The county took over dispatch for Oxford in 2016, due to a new state law. The law that passed in 2012 said that jurisdictions with multiple Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) had to shave their centers down to four in 2016 and three in 2018 or risk losing half its wireless 911 and Next Generation 911 state funding, or about $400,000.

That city’s agreement was similar to Hamilton’s, and Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott said the city paid the county $377,648 last year.

“I’m really thrilled, I hope something comes of it,” Elliott said. “I’ve always felt they need to get these other jurisdictions to contribute because they place a burden on the system and they’re not contributing. We all pay our county taxes and how we fund this should be done equitably.”

Hamilton Executive Director of Public Safety Scott Scrimizzi said he agreed with Elliott that others should start contributing to the system.

Dwyer would like to renegotiate the formula into new contracts with both entities. The formula takes into account the percentage of burden — based largely but not entirely on call volume — a given entity puts on the dispatch center staff. He said, under the new formula, Hamilton is likely underpaying, and Oxford overpaying a little, but it was too early to discuss proposed fees.

In case of a drastic change in circumstance in a given year, Dwyer said the proposed forumla has cost caps to help the communities budget.

Hamilton’s burden on the center is 43.13 percent, and Oxford’s is 7.38 percent. Fairfield Twp. is No. 3 at 4.74 percent. Police Chief Bob Chabali said Fairfield Twp. is ready to pay for the service. Dwyer has shared a preliminary amount with him, one he wasn’t willing to reveal because it is subject to change, and he will “make room for it in the budget” if the trustees agree.

“I don’t think it’s unfair, I think it’s part of doing business in today’s time,” Chabali said. “I came from the area of Montgomery County and just about every jurisdiction that I know there is being charged.”

Ross Twp. poses the next largest burden, with 4,621 calls in 2018, representing 2.53 percent of the workload. Police Chief Burt Roberts, who hails from Hamilton County where dispatch fees are common, said he wasn’t shocked by the proposal, but he didn’t know about it when he prepared his $900,000 budget for this year.

“It is what it is, I wish I had another alternative, but it’s not like I can shop around and see if I can find somebody else that will dispatch cheaper for me, so it’s an evil necessity for me,” he said. “But we will make it happen.”

Stephanie Chandler, the new mayor in New Miami, said she wasn’t aware of a possible fee and didn’t yet know its impact on the police budget because she recently took office. The village’s 3,425 calls in 2018 represent 1.43 percent of the burden.

The county commissioners would have to approve the new plan.

“It kind of makes sense to look at the whole picture but we haven’t had that discussion yet,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “It’s too early.”

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