Ohio Cities Resist Transition to Statewide 911 Dispatch

The issue has divided communities and local officials around the state.

by Lawrence Budd, Dayton Daily News, Ohio / May 23, 2016
A 911 dispatcher takes calls. David Kidd/e.Republic

(TNS) -- Warren County communities are resisting efforts to create a statewide emergency dispatch network, despite the potential to save millions in taxpayer money.

“Due to the critical nature of public safety dispatching, it is not recommended that the city discontinue the use of its communications center in an effort to achieve the cost savings that may result,” Lebanon City Manager Pat Clements said in conclusion of a March 2016 evaluation of consolidation.

Lebanon estimates it could save $432,000 a year by joining the Warren County Command Center, at least for the time being, provided to communities at no cost.

Already Springboro and Mason have switched. Franklin and Lebanon are the final holdouts in the county.

Last week, Franklin officials offered no indication they were willing to give up the local service. There were signs of possible change in Lebanon, where the city council is looking for budget cuts to pay for needs, such as road repairs.

Kettering, Oakwood and Centerville still operate their own 911 response centers, although Centerville now handles the task for West Carrollton.

The issue has divided communities and local officials around the state, including Montgomery and Greene counties.

In Lebanon, the communication center dispatches utility workers and provides other community services.

“This is a hot button in Lebanon,” Lebanon Councilwoman Wendy Monroe said last week during a work session with the Warren County Board of Commissioners.

Latest phase in state 911 center initiative

On May 12, the latest standards established through the Ohio 9-1-1 Program Office ESINET Steering Committee took effect. The standards are another step toward setting up a statewide network using next-generation technology to get first responders to the scene of emergencies as quickly as possible, saving lives and getting ahead of a wide array of other catastrophes.

By May 2018, all public safety answer points (PSAPs) are to operate according to the standards, or lose state funding - derived from a 25 cent charge on cell phone bills.

Each center will be required to complete training, staff the center with two dispatchers ready for 911 response, establish an emergency medical dispatch protocol, provide an alternate power supply and comply with other potentially expensive standards.

Debate in Lebanon

In March, Lebanon City Council spent $135,000 to update computer programming supporting its system, rather than sign on with Warren County, which signed a $1.8 million contract in January for software computer-aided dispatch, records keeping and records management.

Warren County funds its center with sales tax, in particular on the sale of new cars and trucks from the auto mall along the county line.

Lebanon, struggling to fund street repairs, has no such surplus and voters defeated a levy issue designed to help the city catch up on road repairs.

Last week, Vice Mayor Mark Messer said the city spent $700,00 to $900,000 a year on the service. Franklin did not reply to questions about what it costs to operate its call center.

Messer and Monroe said they would take their findings back to Lebanon City Council, which is in the midst of its annual cost-cutting search.

“The way I see it, there is a significant amount of savings,” Messer said during the discussion with the commissioners.

Clements indicated the issue was not scheduled for any upcoming Lebanon council meetings. He said the city was part of the statewide committee and ready to move ahead with its own center.

The county commissioners directed Mike Bunner, the county’s director of emergency services, to reconvene a committee established to deal with the state changes and divvy up the cell phone funds - $433,272 last year.

Currently Franklin and Lebanon each get 25 percent $108,318, leaving the rest, $216,636 for the county.

However Bunner found support on the board for cutting the shares going to Lebanon and Franklin, possibly urging the cities to join the county.

Commissioner Dave Young said the time and technology had passed when a city could truly state local dispatchers were able to provide a better service due to knowledge of local streets and other community idiosyncrasies.

“In my opinion, it’s a waste of money,” Young said.

©2016 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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