Combined 9-1-1 system on hold for Springfield, Clark County

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has tracked the city of Springfield and Clark County’s efforts to create a combined 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center for more than tow years, including stories digging into the cost and call volumes.

By the numbers

$1.1 million: What Clark County spends annually on its 9-1-1 call center

$1.4 million: What the city of Springfield spends annually on its 9-1-1 call center

$3 million: Approximate cuts the city has faced in recent years from the state, including to local government funds and estate taxes, as well as changes to red light camera laws

The proposed countywide emergency dispatch center is on “indefinite hold,” according to a Clark County commissioner.

Clark County and Springfield city commissioners recently met to discuss financing the project but couldn’t reach an agreement on cost sharing.

Discussions on the combined dispatch are at a standstill, Clark County Commissioner Richard Lohnes said.

“We have no future meetings scheduled. Right now it’s on indefinite hold,” he said.

The city and county have talk about establishing a countywide 9-1-1 dispatch center intermittently for about 15 to 20 years.

Discussions on establishing the dispatch center resumed in 2013 after the city’s acquisition of the former U.S. Army Reserve military complex at 1515 W. High St.

But talks have stalled due largely to the expense.

A consulting firm report indicated the city and the county would have to spend between $2.9 million and $3.5 million on new equipment and millions more to renovate the facility on High Street.

Cost estimates included in the report came in much higher than expected, officials have said.

At the same time the city has faced about $3 million in cuts in recent years from the state, including to local government funds and estate taxes, as well as changes to red light camera laws.

The city is also expecting to lose revenue through changes to the municipal income tax structure, which was made uniform statewide and will be phased in over the next few years.

Springfield is also collecting about $1 million annually less due to changes in EMS billing.

The city cannot afford to spend more for 9-1-1 dispatching, Mayor Warren Copeland said.

“Our revenue is basically where it was at the bottom of the recession so we’re basically still in recession and we don’t get any gambling money. You have to be a city of 80,000 or more to get gambling money,” he said. “That means we don’t have anything to make up for the losses that the state made through their actions. It’s going to be a very, very tough budget for us.”

Springfield leaders had hoped that a combined 9-1-1 arrangement could reduce the city’s dispatching costs, Copeland said.

Clark County currently spends about $1.1 million and the city about $1.4 million per year on separate 9-1-1 centers.

Clark County officials offered to spend $400,000 more annually on dispatching by 2018 after start-up costs and asked the city pay $200,000 more than they currently spend per yer.

“They (city officials) don’t like that idea. They’re really tight on funding. They’re finances are in deep trouble,” Lohnes said.

But Lohnes said county commissioners won’t support a plan that calls for the county to spend $600,000 more per year on dispatching.

Clark County could build a new dispatch center on its own for more than $400,000, Lohnes said.

County commissioners plan to budget for 9-1-1 technology upgrades in November, he said, even if a decision cannot be reached with the city.

Copeland said Lohnes initially offered $400,000 annually in casino money the county gets from the state toward the project, but has since decreased that to $300,000.

“The county has pulled back in some ways from that original offer,” Copeland said. “We would like to at least reach some middle ground with them in which we still experience some control over costs.”

Lohnes said he initially offered the city $400,000 in casino money, but the two other county commissioners at that time balked at that but said they would support $300,000 annually.

The city of Springfield simply can’t afford to spend any more on year to year operating expenses, Copeland said, and hoped the county would be “more helpful than their last offer.”

Lohnes and Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said both sides remain interested in the project, but haven’t yet determined how to share costs.

“We remain willing to meet and are still hopeful we can reach an agreement for a countywide dispatching system,” Bodenmiller said.

Clark County Commissioners David Herier and John Detrick said they hope an agreement can be reached that’s equitable to both sides.

Herier said officials need more time to determine the requirements for new 9-1-1 dispatch center technology to get a better idea on how much the upgrades will cost.

“It’s an idea that is important to continue to pursue to improve services and we’re both likely to have upgrades that are necessary,” Herier said.

The plan for a combined center is that it would result in a 21st century system, Detrick said, and provide better and quicker dispatching service to all Clark County residents.

But he said he would like the city’s financial share increased based on the 9-1-1 call volume from city residents.

“I would like to see it proportionate based on the calls. They’re 60 percent of the emergency calls and we’re 40,” Detrick said.

Alison Goebel, associate director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center in Columbus, said her agency has for several years encouraged local governments to share services and resources, such as 9-1-1 dispatching.

State funding is available to assist in hiring a consultant to help cities and counties through the process, she said.

Combined dispatch centers have been established in Montgomery and Champaign counties and more recently in Marion County after several years of discussion there. But Goebel said the idea might not work everywhere.

“A combined 9-1-1 dispatch service is a way to provide better service to community members,” she said. “Also, so many residents don’t care how their services are done as long as they’re done and done well.”

She said combining dispatching services could encourage more collaboration between cities and counties.

“There are real opportunities to make things function more seamlessly,” she said.

Copeland said local leaders still want to establish a countywide 9-1-1 center and are hopeful they can reach an agreement.

“We still very much want to do it. But I don’t think anybody at this point can predict where we will end up,” Copeland said.

Staff Writer Michael Cooper contributed to this story.

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