Leaders laud Delaware County's 911 system, OK fall levy

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Delaware County commissioners praised the countywide 911 system Aug. 3 as they voted to place a renewal 911 operating levy on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The five-year levy, if approved by voters, would renew the 0.63-mill levy and add 0.05 mill for a total of 0.68 mill.

The current levy was approved in November 2016 as a renewal and increase from 0.45 mill to 0.63 mill. It's collecting at a total effective rate of 0.55 mill, according to the Delaware County Auditor's Office.

Homeowners pay $17.63 annually per $100,000 of property value toward the existing levy, which will expire at the end of 2021, according to the county. The levy's renewal would increase that by $1.75 for a $19.38 annual total.

Collection of the tax would begin in 2022. The levy would generate $4.5 million per year, according to the auditor's office.

Accolades for the county's 911 system were universal among commissioners Aug. 3.

"For a really quality 911, I think we have the best in the state," said commissioner Gary Merrell.

The levy "is a very modest amount and a great value," said commissioner Barb Lewis.

Delaware fire Chief John Donahue spoke to commissioners Aug. 3 as the chairman of the 911 board.

He said the increase is needed to update the system's eight communication towers. The towers use microwave transmission; the board wants to replace that with fiber-optic communications, which he said will be more reliable as the county continues to grow.

The buildings that house communications equipment at each tower are in need of upgrades, he said. They are aging and the floor is deteriorating in some of them.

Passage of the levy will allow the 911 board to analyze options of lightweight or block construction for the upgrades, he said.

Donahue emphasized that the 911 board -- which includes some elected officials and police and fire chiefs, among others -- devoted considerable discussion to determining how much the millage increase should be.

"The responsibility of our board is not taken lightly," he said. "We want to ensure our 911 center is there today and tomorrow, not only for our citizens but also for our first responders.

He said the 911 board will make annual reviews of the system's revenue. If revenue increases more than needed, he said, the board can recommended to the county budget commission that the millage be "rolled back," or reduced.

"We take our costs and our funding and our operation very seriously at this," Donahue said.

He said the county's 911 system is "the premier 911 center in this area and certainly in the state."

According to Donahue, it was the first in central Ohio to allow texts to 911 and to integrate alarm systems at homes or other sites into its computer system.

Sheriff Russ Martin told commissioners that, as a taxpayer, he knows the best return on investment is local tax dollars, which is not always the view of spending at the state level.

"We have considered multiple scenarios as we aim to maintain the level of service that our residents and visitors have come to expect," county emergency communications director Patrick Brandt said after the meeting.

"This modest increase allows us to replace equipment as needed, but also accounts for a softer economy due to COVID-19," he said.

"Being privileged to serve on the 911 board, I have seen firsthand the quality of services provided by our 911 center," Merrell said.

"The board is made up of representatives from law enforcement, fire departments, cities and emergency services. Their expertise also is important in providing the quality of services we all expect and appreciate," he said.

In 2019, the county 911 center processed 40,794 calls in addition to 65,956 nonemergency administrative calls. A total of 3,151 alarm calls were handled electronically, and 58 texts came in, said county director of communications Jane Hawes.

The center also runs the communications system for first responders in the county and maintains the portable and mobile radios used by these forces. In 2019, this radio system processed 6.6 million "request to communicate" interactions from first responders, Hawes said.

For more information, go to emergencycomms.co.delaware.oh.us.

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