Upper Arlington News

Cost analysis will consider merger of 911 dispatching

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The cities of Upper Arlington, Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington have been awarded a grant of more than $50,000 to analyze costs and study the feasibility of consolidating emergency response dispatch services.

The $51,316 Local Government Innovation Fund grant comes from the Ohio Department of Development.

Those funds, which will be matched by $7,500 contributions from each city, will be used to pay the L.R. Kimball company of Ebensburg, Pa., to study the logistics of consolidating the communities' respective 911 dispatch centers.

Such a move also would affect Norwich, Sharon and Washington townships, which provide fire and emergency medical services to Hilliard, Worthington and Dublin, respectively.

"Our hope is to look to see if there is a better way to do what we're doing -- a more cost-effective way of doing it," Upper Arlington Assistant City Manager Joe Valentino said.

Last summer, each of the cities agreed to study the benefits and costs associated with consolidating their 911 dispatch centers. In addition to the grant-matching dollars, each of the four cities spent $2,875 to pay a professional grant-writer.

Now, a cost analysis will be done to see what equipment, software and other technology would be needed for a consolidation. The study also will seek to determine if individual communities' overhead can be reduced and how emergency dispatch staffing would be affected.

"Call centers require a number of resources because they're staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Worthington Assistant City Manager Robyn Stewart said. "It's an area where we, as the city of Worthington, have invested significant resources to operate our center.

"We're constantly evaluating to see how we can best provide that service. We think it makes sense to continue to monitor what our options are."

According to the Upper Arlington Community Affairs Office, Upper Arlington's 911 communications center is staffed 17,056 hours per year.

Including equipment maintenance, office space and utilities, the city annually spends about $830,000 on 911 dispatch services.

According to the Worthington Police Department, Worthington spends about $1.18 million for 911 dispatch personnel, maintenance, equipment and other materials and supplies in 2012.

In addition to possible cost savings, the impending study will seek to determine if 911 services can be dispatched more efficiently through a consolidation.

Currently, 911 calls from cellular phone users in Upper Arlington, Worthington and Hilliard go to call centers in Columbus or Dublin, because Arlington, Hilliard and Worthington do not have the technology to receive 911 calls from mobile phones. The Dublin and Columbus 911 call centers must transfer emergency response information to other communities after receiving calls from those areas.

If the call centers are consolidated, cell phone calls would go to a single location, which could more quickly direct emergency crews to incident locations.

"We want to understand the financial aspects of this, but we also want to understand the level and quality of service with this," Stewart said. "We want to know how that consolidation would look and feel, and how it would operate."

Valentino said the cities likely won't receive reports from the study before April or May.

At that point, the communities should have adequate information to determine if they will proceed with consolidation efforts, he said.

If the centers are consolidated, Valentino said, there likely will be an impact on staffing.

However, he noted that in Upper Arlington, the city will seek to protect as many local jobs as possible. He said if reductions are needed, the city would attempt to eliminate positions through attrition, such as when current employees retire or resign.

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