The city of Worthington will enter into a partnership with Dublin, Upper Arlington and Hilliard to study the feasibility of consolidating emergency-response dispatch services.
Worthington City Council agreed to be part of the study at its Jan. 7 meeting, after being informed that the cities have received a $51,316 grant from the Ohio Department of Development for the study.
Worthington will pay up to $10,000 toward a $30,000 local match and contingencies.
The six-month study will be done by L.R. Kimball, the consultant hired by Upper Arlington, which took the lead in applying for the Local Government Innovation Fund grant.
The company will evaluate the dispatching services in each community, interview stakeholders and make recommendations about how the centers could be consolidated.
The recommendation will include information about service-level expectations, technology requirements, facility requirements, call volumes, staffing, costs, governing options and transitions, among other issues.
The Worthington dispatch center, based at the Worthington police department, dispatches for Worthington police and fire. Sharon and Perry townships also are served by Worthington.
Dublin dispatches for Washington Township, and Hilliard dispatches for Norwich Township.
"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.
"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," she said. "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 has seven full-time and three part-time dispatchers who work a combined 17,056 man hours per year.
With staffing, 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, the study will help to determine whether 911 services could be dispatched more efficiently through a consolidation.
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 call centers must transfer emergency-response information to other communities after receiving calls from those areas.
If the call centers are consolidated, cellphone calls would go to a single location, which more quickly could 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 wouldn't receive reports from the study before April or May. At that point, the communities should have adequate information to determine whether to proceed with consolidation efforts, he said.
If the centers were consolidated, Valentino said, staffing likely wouldn't be affected.
However, he said, in Upper Arlington, the city will seek to protect as many local jobs as possible. He said if reductions were needed, the city would attempt to eliminate positions through attrition, such as when existing employees retire or resign.