City considers consolidating 911 services
Upper Arlington officials are considering a proposal to consolidate the city's emergency-response call center with those from five nearby communities.
Upper Arlington City Council voted unanimously on Monday, Aug. 27, to allow City Manager Theodore Staton's office to apply for an Ohio Local Government Innovation Fund grant.
If awarded, the grant could be used to pay for a study weighing the possible merits of merging Upper Arlington's 911 emergency call services with those for the cities of Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington, as well as Norwich and Washington townships.
"The ideal scenario would be an opportunity to share services so that we reduce overhead, that we maintain the high-quality services we provide now ... and that would be more efficient," Assistant City Manager Joe Valentino said.
As of ThisWeek's press time on Tuesday, Valentino said bids for a feasibility study were expected to be submitted to the city on Aug. 29. He estimated the study could cost between $60,000 and $100,000, and those costs would be shared by each of the communities considering the merger.
Should city council decide to move forward, either with funds from the grant or city dollars, the study would seek to determine how much it would cost to consolidate 911 services with the other five communities, how the merger could most effectively be completed and where a consolidated 911 call center would be housed, Valentino said.
He added the study should provide guidance with respect to call center staffing and what protocols could be adopted.
"Each of the jurisdictions would equally contribute," Valentino said. "Where we would look at saving money is (sharing) of technology and upgrades."
Information related to Upper Arlington's annual costs for 911 services wasn't available.
In addition to the possible consolidation of staff and sharing costs to house and operate a 911 call center, Valentino said a primary benefit could be the ability to get direct 911 calls from mobile telephone users.
Currently, 911 calls from cellular phone users in Upper Arlington go to call centers in Columbus or Dublin because Upper Arlington -- and all but five central Ohio communities -- do not the have technology to receive 911 calls from mobile phones.
The Dublin and Columbus 911 call centers must transfer emergency-response information to Upper Arlington after receiving those calls.
If the call centers are consolidated, cell phone calls would go to a single location, which could more quickly direct emergency-response crews to incident locations.
"The chance of getting a cell phone call is greater than getting a land-line call now," Valentino said. "We have to be able to deal with that."
Should the feasibility study be approved and it suggests a consolidation would be beneficial, Valentino said it likely wouldn't occur in 2012 or 2013.
"From there, it's building the new system, whether that's in a new or existing location," he said. "I'm anticipating 2014 is really when this would be alive, if it happens."
Should a consolidation occur, it's possible staffing cuts could result in some of the participating jurisdictions' call centers.
However, Valentino and Upper Arlington Community Affairs Director Emma Speight said the city would seek to minimize those cuts through employee retirements and other attrition.
"We really are looking for attrition for our folks and not the axe," Valentino said. "The number of emergencies isn't going to decline."
Speight added the city already has identified a total of approximately 10 positions across city departments which won't be funded in 2013. However, those reductions will occur from retirements or employees leaving the city for other opportunities, as opposed to layoffs or firings.
"That's something we've been doing in other areas," she said. "We would look to do that here, as well."