Northern Franklin County
Cities mulling police, fire dispatching consolidation
Four communities in northern Franklin County are considering consolidating their police and fire dispatching services.
Hilliard, Dublin, Upper Arlington and Worthington are preparing an application for a grant from the Local Government Innovation Fund that would help pay for a study of such a merger.
Currently, each of the suburbs provides its own dispatching services. Some also include adjoining townships.
The joint dispatching effort among the four cities would differ from the Metropolitan Emergency Communication Center, or MECC, in Gahanna, as it is a consortium of six East Side fire departments for fire and EMS dispatching, whereas the proposal among Worthington, Hilliard, Dublin and Upper Arlington would combine police, fire and EMS dispatching.
A study would look at how consolidation would occur, where consolidated services might be headquartered, how much money might be saved and any other advantages and disadvantages for the communities involved.
The Hilliard Division of Police dispatches police and fire calls for the city of Hilliard and Norwich and Brown townships.
The department has at least two dispatchers on duty, one for fire and one for police, but both dispatchers respond to police or fire, depending on call volumes for a particular service. A third dispatcher sometimes is on duty.
"This study is a look at the duplication of efforts," Norwich Township Fire Chief Bob Kaufman said.
Municipalities, and particularly safety departments, as they require a majority of operating expenses, are under scrutiny as governments consider operating costs and budgets, Kaufman said.
"There is a push for consolidation (in the public service sector) ... and I think it makes sense to have such a study," Kaufman said.
Hilliard Police Chief Doug Francis said the process began as casual conversation among the four police chiefs and evolved into a concrete plan.
"It made perfect sense from a philosophical standpoint and a geographical standpoint for these four agencies to come together," Francis said, inasmuch that all four chiefs share the same leadership views and are in close proximity to each other.
Francis is particularly familiar with the Worthington and Dublin police departments. He worked for 23 years in Worthington and was a lieutenant when he was named Hilliard's first deputy chief. Francis and the Dublin Police Chief Heinz von Eckartsberg were in the police academy together and have maintained a close working relationship.
Francis said he and then Norwich Fire Chief David Long first began discussing shared serves in 2009 when Francis became deputy chief, and Norwich Township hosted the first meetings of area chiefs.
"I think it is unprecedented that these four departments have come together who all have a shared thought and a shared vision," Francis said.
Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson said Worthington has been meeting with Dublin to discuss dispatch collaboration for several months. The other two communities are part of the collaboration because they share a philosophy on the way people in the field are treated and the way they meet the needs of the community, he said.
Dispatching could be an expensive service, in part because of the equipment costs. Many communities will face the need to upgrade technology in the near future, Greeson said.
"I think we've been called upon to evaluate these kinds of things in this day and age, and it would be irresponsible not to," he said. "It makes it logical to look for partners so the cost of the system is spread over several communities."
Ohio created the Local Government Innovation Fund to provide financial assistance to communities that are planning and implementing projects to create more efficient and effective service delivery.
In June, it awarded $3.4 million in grants and $2.9 million in loans to 51 projects.
Grants could provide up to $100,000 per project. The deadline for applications for the next round of grants is Sept. 4.
Several of the first-round grants were for merger projects similar to the one being considered by the four suburbs, Greeson said.