As 911 call centers in Ohio continue to consolidate, the Norwich Township Fire Department is among the agencies reassessing dispatching services.
The Hilliard Division of Police currently provides dispatching services for Norwich Township, but Hilliard is exploring joining a consortium that would create a shared Public Safety Answering Point with the cities of Dublin, Upper Arlington, Worthington and Washington and Norwich townships.
Norwich Fire Chief Bob Kaufman and Hilliard Deputy Police Chief Bobby Fisher spoke at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Norwich Township trustees about the progress of the tentative consortium to establish the call center.
The trustees said while they are open to the idea of joining a consortium, they must also consider alternatives, such as independently contracting with another agency, including the Dublin Division of Police.
The trustees were unsure which path would provide the best quality of service at the best price, but they are hopeful a study to which Norwich Township has now contributed will provide some direction. The trustees approved a resolution to contribute $5,000 to a study to determine the feasibility of a 911 call center for the consortium.
L. Robert Kimble & Associates will administer the study, estimated at $80,000. A Local Government Innovation Grant of more than of $50,000 from the Ohio Department of Development will pay for most of the study, leaving the six partnering municipalities to each chip in $5,000 to cover the remainder.
The trustees also approved a resolution authorizing a letter of intent to negotiate with the Dublin Division of Police for emergency-dispatching services should the township not join the consortium.
If a regional 911 dispatching center were created, agencies that currently serve as a call center would cease dispatching. The dispatchers at the regional call center most likely would come from the ranks of the departments that comprise the consortium, but the total number would be fewer than those agencies' combined number of dispatchers.
The host for a regional call center also has not been identified.
Dublin appears to be a likely site, but nothing has been determined, Trustee Tim Roberts said.
Fisher said all the logistics were hard to determine because the consortium still is "in the discussion stage."
Franklin County has 18 call centers. That figure must be cut by more than two-thirds in less than four years, according to state law.
House Bill 360 recently was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich. It orders each county in Ohio by the end of 2016 to reduce the number of call centers to four. Counties with a city whose population exceeds 175,000 will be permitted five center.
Jay Somerville, director of technology services for the Dublin Division of Police, said the feasibility study should be complete in about four months.
Norwich Trustee Chuck Buck said he hopes the study will yield some answers as to whether a consortium is in the best interest of Norwich Township.
Buck said dispatching has improved with the Hilliard police, compared to the Franklin County sheriff's office that once dispatched for the Norwich Township Fire Department. He said he does not want to make any changes that do not result in further improvement.
Trustee Larry Earman said initial discussions with Dublin have indicated that joining a consortium could reduce the per-call cost for Hilliard police but might increase the per-call cost for the fire department because fire dispatching is more time-consuming and thus more costly.
The trustees also view a consortium as an all-or-nothing proposal. If any one of the six municipalities choose not to participate, Earman said, it would change the benefit to the remaining entities.
If a consortium does not form, Earman said, an independent contract with Dublin has some built-in advantages.
Because of existing mutual response agreements, Dublin's system already has all the addresses in Hilliard and Norwich Township.
Dublin also provides "pre-arrival instructions," which are life-savings tactics and other tasks dispatchers convey to callers while medic units are en route.
Despite the state mandate, Buck was wary of a consortium.
"Bigger government does not always mean less expensive ... or more efficient," Buck said.
He also indicated he might not support a long-term agreement as a consortium member. Kaufman said a five-year agreement was possible.
"I would want (a shorter amount of time) to evaluate it (before a five-year contract)," Buck said.