Upper Arlington News

911 study says merger would save cities money

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A study to determine the feasibility of merging Upper Arlington's emergency-response dispatch operations with those of Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington concluded the communities could save about $1.2 million annually through shared services.

A study released Sept. 6 by Ebensburg, Pa.-based L.R. Kimball recommended that Upper Arlington and Worthington follow Hilliard's lead in contracting for 911 dispatch services with the city of Dublin.

"Current reported budgets for all four cities' PSAPs (public safety answering points) are approximately $4.5 million," the study stated. "In a consolidated center under the city of Dublin, the total costs will decrease specifically for overall personnel costs.

"The costs for the city of Dublin may double, due primarily to a shift in personnel costs; however, the costs for the cities of Upper Arlington, Hilliard and Worthington may decrease by approximately $1.2 million."

Currently, the combined operating cost for all four dispatching operations is $4.5 million a year. The costs under consolidation would be $3.3 million, according to study estimates.

One-time costs to merge operations would be about $785,000, including equipment upgrades and building renovations in Dublin.

The $90,000 study, which was funded with a $51,316 state grant and $10,000 from Upper Arlington, Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington, respectively, was commissioned to help the communities decide if a 911 dispatch merger would cut costs and improve emergency-response services.

It comes as 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 L.R. Kimball study recommended that Dublin could house the consolidated dispatch center by expanding its current facility by 1,075 square feet. The study said the consolidated center could operate with a staff of 35 to 40 employees.

Currently, the four cities employ a total of 42 full-time and five part-time dispatchers.

"The first year, the cities should contribute their current budget to support start-up costs and capital expenditures and the second year, the cities should contribute a specific portion of their current budget for the continued support of the start-up costs for consolidated operations.

"For contributions following the first two years, L.R. Kimball recommends that the cities choose a simple contribution model such as population or real estate assessments in order to define the contribution for each city," the study said.

The information and a recommendation on how to proceed from the Upper Arlington city manager's office is expected to be given to Upper Arlington City Council at its Sept. 16 conference session.

"We are excited to have this report that outlines a way forward for shared dispatching services among the Northwest suburban communities," City Manager Ted Staton said.

"Upper Arlington faces unique challenges in that we have major investments to make, whether we continue to operate our own communications center or consolidate with our suburban partners," he said.

If Upper Arlington decides to merge its 911 dispatch center, Staton said, the city won't know how much money it can save long-term until staffing and other cost-sharing agreements are worked out.

"We believe that savings will not be achieved until after initial start-up costs are covered," he said.

Including costs for equipment maintenance, office space and utilities, Upper Arlington annually spends about $830,000 on 911 dispatch services.

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