Upper Arlington News

UA isn't ready to agree to consolidation plan for 911

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Despite an impending shared-services agreement between two of its proposed partners, Upper Arlington is not yet ready to consolidate its emergency-services dispatching operations with those of Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington.

Hilliard City Council is expected to finalize a three-year contract Sept. 23 authorizing the city of Dublin to take over emergency-services dispatching for Hilliard and Norwich Township, which provides fire and emergency-medical service to Hilliard.

The move comes amid ongoing talks between Upper Arlington, Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington to consolidate their 911 dispatch centers, so long as the merger is projected to cut costs and improve emergency responses for the respective communities.

Although Dublin and Hilliard appear poised to move forward separately -- Hilliard City Council's vote is the last piece of the puzzle and it already has approved the first reading of legislation for the three-year pact with Dublin -- Upper Arlington officials don't see that as an impediment to the larger, regional merger.

In fact, Upper Arlington Assistant City Manager Joe Valentino said the Dublin-Hilliard agreement is a good thing.

"We are actually kind of excited about that," Valentino said. "We're going to watch them and see what they do.

"As (Hilliard's 911 services) move to Dublin, it will be a learning experience."

Last January, Upper Arlington City Council approved hiring Ebensburg, Pa.-based LR Kimball to conduct a 911 services consolidation study.

The cost of the contract, including contingencies, was $90,000.

Of that, Upper Arlington's share was about $10,000 because $51,316 was to be covered by a Local Government Innovation Fund grant awarded to Upper Arlington from the Ohio Department of Development. Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington also each contributed in $10,000 to fund the study.

Valentino said he expected to have the results of the study this week, and he plans to provide a staff report with recommendations on how to proceed at council's Sept. 16 conference session.

"I'm anticipating the report to recommend Dublin is the place to go (for a consolidated center) instead of some type of hybrid or new system," he said.

The study is supposed to help the communities determine if the merger makes sense logistically, as well as financially.

In addition to a cost analysis to see what equipment, software and other technology would be needed for a consolidation, the study was geared to determine if individual communities' overhead can be reduced and how emergency dispatch staffing would be affected.

Valentino reiterated his comments from last January, when he said Upper Arlington only will consolidate its 911 dispatch center if it can reduce the city's costs and maintain or improve the quality of emergency-response services.

According to the Upper Arlington Community Affairs Office, Upper Arlington's 911 communications center is staffed at 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 spent about $1.18 million for 911 dispatch personnel, maintenance, equipment and other materials and supplies in 2012.

In addition to possible cost savings, Upper Arlington hopes a merger would yield more efficient 911 responses.

Currently, 911 calls from cellphone users in Upper Arlington, Worthington and Hilliard go to call centers in Columbus or Dublin, because Upper 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 the other communities after receiving calls.

If the call centers consolidate, cellphone calls would go to a single location.

Although the forthcoming study is expected to answer questions related to consolidation feasibility and costs, Valentino said Upper Arlington likely won't make a decision on the proposal for some time because officials will continue to weigh issues related to equipment needs and how staffing would be affected.

"We wouldn't be consolidating for some time -- years," he said. "Hilliard had a situation that they needed to do something immediately because of equipment and staffing issues.

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