By STACY MILLBERG - firstname.lastname@example.org
The idea of centralized public safety dispatching services for the county has been tossed around for many years, but now, it may be closer to becoming a reality.
With the support of a number of communities throughout the county, the Ashtabula County Commissioners have decided to hire a consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study on the issue. The study will determine whether centralized dispatching is a good fit for the county, said Commissioner Dan Claypool.
The county’s emergency operations center, housed at the Justice Center, is more than 30 years old and there is no room to add more equipment, he said. With the villages in the county having to seek out dispatching services after the termination of their contracts with Middlefield, the topic of centralized communications for the county came to light again.
“The county has never been in a position to consolidate before,” Claypool said. “We figured maybe now was the time.”
A series of meetings began taking place regarding the issue. Included in those meetings were representatives from the Ashtabula County Township Association; the Ashtabula County Fire Chief’s Association; First Energy; the cities of Geneva, Conneaut and Ashtabula; the villages of Orwell, Roaming Shores, Jefferson and Geneva-on-the-Lake; and the townships of Ashtabula, Plymouth and Rome.
The general consensus was a mutual support for exploring the issue the see if it will benefit the county, Claypool said.
“Nobody is saying we are going to do this or whether everyone has to be a part of it,” he said. “This is all about being able to improve services.”
There are six Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) in the county. They are located at the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department, Ashtabula Police Department, Geneva Police Department, Conneaut Police Department, Ashtabula Township Fire Department and Saybrook Township Fire Department. Each of those departments dispatches for a number of other departments throughout the county.
While the consolidation of dispatching services may add a few full-time jobs to the county, it also could eliminate a number of jobs as well as decrease revenue coming into communities that maintain dispatch centers.
Claypool said the county would certainly not want anyone to lose their job, which is one of the reasons participating in centralized dispatching will not be mandatory.
“When this plan gets laid out, each one of those entities is going to have to do its own soul searching,” he said. “We don’t have the authority to decide what is best for these communities, that’s why they have their own elected officials. Each one will have to look internally to see how this will fit for them.”
Claypool said the county is experiencing problems because ACSO operates on one radio frequency, the cities operate on another radio frequency, the fire departments operate on yet another frequency and everyone is trying to communicate with each other.
“We owe it to the citizens to see if we can improve services and improve efficiencies,” he said. “With the technology we have today, we can make whatever we have work.”
The county was awarded a $70,000 Local Government Innovation Fund Grant through the Ohio Development Services Agency to help pay for the feasibility study. Claypool said the grant will not cover the entire cost of the study and the county will pay the remainder, which could be $10,000 or more.
L.R. Kimball, of
Pittsburgh will conduct the study. The firm specializes in fully integrated project design and planning in communication technology services. The county hopes to have the study completed by the end of the year.
If the recommendation is to move forward with centralized dispatching, Claypool said there will be a lot of different things that would need to be thought through before it could be implemented.
There are still a lot of uncertainties that will hopefully be cleared up at the study’s conclusion, including start-up costs and operating costs of a centralized center; whether each entity will have to pay the county for dispatching services; and equipment costs, to name a few.
“This has to be put together at the community levels because they have different needs,” Claypool said. “It has to work from the ground up and improve services for the people we serve and improve efficiency within our ranks.”
Andover Village Police Chief Randy Gentry said he thinks centralized dispatching will be a wise move for the county.
“I think it’s a better use of our tax dollars,” he said.
While central dispatching seems to be moving closer to a reality, there is still some opposition to the idea.
Saybrook Township Trustee Bob Brobst said Saybrook will keep its in-house dispatch center going as long as the township can afford it.
“When this topic came up before, the people of the township said they wanted dispatching to stay in Saybrook,” he said. “My feeling is one dispatch center for the county is risky business.”
Brobst said he thinks the county should have one dispatch center north of Interstate 90, one in the center of the county and one in the southern part of the county.
“I’ve learned to respect what I have at home and not make changes,” he said. “Our people told us to keep everything in our fire department in tact. I represent the people.”
Saybrook Township Fire Chief John Jyurovat said he is not opposed to exploring whether centralized services will be ideal for the county.
“This is a good way to find out if there is a better way we can do things and save money without decreasing services,” he said. “As the township fire chief I am not going to put up opposition of it. Once the study is complete, we will see where the numbers fall and if it will benefit us. If you don’t look, you won’t know.”