Upper Arlington News

City notes

911 study will be presented at Sept. 16 council meeting

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All options are on the table as the city of Upper Arlington works to address its tightening budget realities.

Our workforce has been reduced by approximately 25 percent from its one-time high to about 225 full-time employees on staff today. We continue to take steps to contain the costs of employee benefits -- for example, successfully reducing employee healthcare costs two years in a row.

And we have been taking a close look at expanding shared services agreements with other local governments, the schools, library and beyond.

One opportunity for forging a mutually beneficial shared-services arrangement -- consolidating 911 dispatching services with other municipalities -- has been on our radar for many months.

I'm pleased to report that we are closing in on a pathway forward.

Through initial discussions with our neighboring communities about this possibility, the cities of Dublin, Worthington and Hilliard (along with Norwich and Washington townships) recognized the potential for some form of partnership.

However, we also recognized that working through the many moving parts involved in a joint venture of this nature was beyond our scope of expertise.

As a result -- and with the welcome assistance of a $51,000 grant from the Local Government Innovation Fund toward a total outlay of $81,000 -- in early 2013, we jointly contracted with consultant L. R. Kimball to conduct a feasibility study on behalf of our respective communities.

The report is now back from Kimball and will soon be discussed with our respective elected bodies to determine next steps.

In brief, the study has found that a number of benefits could be realized through a consolidation: providing the opportunity to share and use the latest technology to better handle the changing ways service calls are made (aka the widespread use of cell phones); long-term savings by moving to one location and one system; enhanced communications for fire and EMS responders; and the potential for expanding the collaboration to include database sharing for crime analysis and more.

The study goes on to recommend the city of Dublin as the logical location for a consolidated center, and that the participating communities enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Dublin for the provision of said services.

The devil is in the details, however, with a proposal like this, and it is anticipated that a transition to a consolidated approach -- pending approval by our respective decision-makers -- could take approximately two years.

In our case, we would incur additional upfront capital costs to make our police, fire and EMS squad technologies compatible with the consolidated system, and we would have to shoulder the burden of maintaining existing services while implementing a transition to the new approach.

Determining what our short-term outlay would be, along with other administrative and logistical issues, will be next on our "to do" list.

In the case of Norwich Township's fire services and Hilliard's police department, the study has essentially validated work they had already begun toward forging a partnership with Dublin for dispatching services. With fewer transitional details to overcome, they are on track to begin contracting dispatch services in October this year and January 2014, respectively.

There will be a presentation of the study's findings at the Sept. 16 council conference session, at which time we anticipate getting a sense from council members of what steps they would like us to take moving forward.

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Municipal Services Center, 3600 Tremont Road.

If you have any questions about this project, please call my office at 614-583-5040.

Theodore J. Staton is Upper Arlington's city manager.

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