Worthington leaders said several factors, including low staffing levels, costs and faster response times, have led them to consider moving the city's 911 dispatching services to the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center in Dublin.

The NRECC is operated by Dublin and serves the cities of Dublin, Hilliard and Upper Arlington and Norwich and Washington townships, according to Robyn Stewart, Worthington's assistant city manager.

According to city documents, the recommendation to join the NRECC was made after an an analysis conducted by Stewart, Worthington Division of Police Chief Jerry Strait, Worthington Division of Fire Chief John Bailot and Assistant Chief Mark Zambito, Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson, Finance Director Scott Bartter and Personnel Director Lori Trego.

City spokeswoman Anne Brown, Greeson and Stewart said the recommendation was based on many factors, which include the challenges of keeping up with technology and providing a high level of service.

"Really, what drove us to look at it initially is this service area has ever-increasing expectations and demands for level of training of the personnel for technology, and there's just always continual investments to be at the forefront of a critical service area," Stewart said. "It's challenging to keep up with all of that independently by ourselves."

A presentation was given to Worthington City Council on April 8. Stewart said city leaders started looking at the issue in 2013 and participated in a consolidation feasibility study by L.R. Kimball, a consulting firm, with Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington and Norwich and Washington townships.

That study was funded by a state grant for $51,316, she said.

Stewart said the four cities that participated divided responsibility for the local match for the grant, with Worthington's share being $10,000.

"Actually, the other jurisdictions who participated in that analysis have already joined the (NRECC)," she said.

Stewart said she couldn't recall specific examples to explain why Worthington didn't join the NRECC earlier, but she said city leaders at the time wanted to shift their focus to other things deemed more critical.

"We just had a number of other initiatives going on in the community," she said.

According to the analysis, the move would help with costs.

The cost of operating Worthington's communications center in 2020 is expected to be about $1.5 million, the analysis said. The total 2018 costs were almost $1.36 million.

According to the analysis, the NRECC's operating budget for 2020 is projected to be just over $1.7 million.

Greeson and Stewart said if the move were to occur, it would not be a fast process and would take place over the course of about a year.

Greeson said the city would have to enter into an agreement with the NRECC, and the services would be transitioned in summer to early fall 2020. Stewart said the NRECC would have to hire eight staff members.

According to the analysis, the cost of joining the NRECC is expected to be "in the range" of about $1.2 million after the first year of transition. This would include $800,000 for the NRECC to provide services, $220,000 for administrative-support positions and one-time costs of $550,000 anticipated for software modifications, modifications to the entrance of the Worthington police station, a kiosk to process mayor's-court payments after hours and a new alerting system for the fire station, according to the analysis.

Stewart said a vestibule with a phone connected to the NRECC would be added to the police station so visitors could speak with someone outside the administrative-support staff's normal working hours.

Greeson said the impact on current city employees should be limited.

He said Worthington would have a few of administrative-support positions available and the NRECC has committed to a closed hiring process, allowing current dispatchers to be hired if they fit the qualifications.

He said staff members know about the transition.

"We're going to work really hard to make sure we connect them to available opportunities," he said.

Six full-time and seven part-time dispatchers work at the city's communications center at the police station, 6555 Worthington Galena Road, Stewart said.

In comparison, the NRECC is staffed by one bureau director, one operations manager, four communications supervisors, 25 communications technicians and one computer-aided manager, according to the City Council presentation.

Brown said even though the calls would be handled outside the city, Worthington police and fire personnel still would respond to emergencies. She said all numbers would stay the same, including the nonemergency numbers: 614-885-4463 for police and 614-885-6740 for fire.

Greeson said the city is engaging in an effort to inform residents about the recommendation and a number of meetings have been scheduled later this month and into early May.

City Council could make a decision in late May or early June, he said.

Brown said the scheduled meetings include:

* "Coffee with the Chiefs" at 7:30 a.m. April 29 at the fire department, 6500 N. High St.

* A public meeting at 7 p.m. May 1 at the Griswold Center, 777 High St.

* A public meeting at 5:30 p.m. May 6 at the Linworth Alternative Program, 2075 W. Dublin-Granville Road in Columbus.

* "Coffee with the Chiefs" at noon May 8 at the Old Worthington Library, 820 High St.

For more information about the recommendation, go to worthington.org. For more information about the NRECC, go to dublinohiousa.gov/northwest-emergency-communications-center.

ominnier@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekOlivia