Unified dispatch center technology to cost millions

Clark County and City of Springfield officials may have to spend between $2.9-$3.5 million on new equipment for the proposed combined 9-1-1 dispatch center and millions more to renovate a new facility.

Dispatchers in the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Springfield Police Division operate in spaces that are too small, lack the ability to expand and are using equipment that is either outdated or will soon need to be replaced, according to a feasibility assessment study on the proposed dispatch center.

Mission Critical Partners, a public safety consulting firm, conducted the study, which accessed current city and county dispatch center conditions, provided recommendations and evaluated plans for a proposed combined dispatch center.

MCP suggested an upgrade to next generation 9-1-1 technology that allows text messaging and picture and video streaming. It also said the new center should upgrade to support emerging technology, such as personal bio-metric alarms for pacemakers and defibrillators.

Mike Combs, Clark County 9-1-1 coordinator, said both centers need to replace equipment in the next five or six years.

“Our CAD systems, our 9-1-1 system, our phone system, our recorders, all of that is not next generation truly compatible. It can be patch worked, but it’s not going to work how it’s supposed to work,” Combs said.

Next generation 9-1-1 technology became available earlier this month. When officials do invest in new technology, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said the city wants equipment that will last for decades to come.

Still, Bodenmiller said he and county officials were surprised by the price tag of the new technology needed.

“The study was somewhat eye -opening in terms of the reality check on new technology that is out there and probably is necessary for both of us regardless of whether or not there is a consolidation,” Bodenmiller said.

“… Certainly, we knew that with the consolidation and going to one location it would make sense to upgrade equipment at that time rather than bring old equipment over. I think we all realize that we’re going to have some pretty substantial capital costs to build a new facility.”

Last year, county commissioners voted in favor of establishing a council of governments, which would give equal voting rights on the proposal to cities, townships and villages.

The preferred location for the countywide center is the former U.S. Army Downs Reserve Center, 1515 W. High St. in Springfield.

Renovation estimates for the facility could range from $1.2-$1.6 million, according the MCP study. But those figures will likely change as the facility has not been evaluated by an architect, officials said.

“We still have a lot of work to do on costing out, renovations and equipment in that facility versus building something entirely new,” Bodenmiller said. “All indications are that it will be much cheaper to renovate that facility and use it, but no final decision has been made.”

The city, which also dispatches for New Carlisle, spends about $1.4 million per year and the county spends $1.5 million annually to run separate 9-1-1 centers. The county dispatches for eight of the 10 townships, except for Green and Mad River Twps.

Currently, the two 9-1-1 centers have a total of 35 full-time dispatchers and two communications directors, and have a call volume of more than 854,000 calls annually, according to the report.

MCP recommended officials would need an estimated staff of about 36-51 full-time and part-time employees to effectively operate a consolidated dispatching center.

The consultants suggested up to 11 dispatchers that work less than 29 hours per week to reduce or eliminate overtime for full-time staff.

Generally, existing employees must apply for their jobs in the combined center. The COG would be responsible for staff placement and the city and county would have to pay out accrued benefits or negotiate transfer of benefits to the COG, the report said.

Officials hope to save money by combining the centers, but the start-up cost estimates are higher than anticipated, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.

MCP estimated operational costs would range from $1.9-$2.4 million in the first year and between $1.9-$2.5 million in the second year. But in five years, operational costs could jump to between $2.1-$2.7 million, according to the report.

“The operating cost once we get started, that’s not a shock. The shock is the amount of money to start up. Of course what we learned is that regardless of what we do, each of those two dispatch centers are going to need to invest in equipment,” Lohnes said.

Lohnes, Bodenmiller and Sheriff Gene Kelly said officials remain in favor of the project.

City and county officials don’t have access to each others warrants, Kelly said, and dispatchers often have to transfer emergency calls back and forth to other jurisdictions.

“It just makes sense today to have everyone in one room,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to save tax dollars, we’ve got to improve service, and so that’s why I’m supportive of this effort.”

But officials are still trying to determine how to finance it.

Clark County commissioners have offered to contribute $300,000 per year toward start-up costs in the first two years of operation. City of Springfield officials haven’t made a decision about how much they plan to put toward start-up costs.

Several options for cost sharing in the third year and beyond have been discussed, including jurisdictions paying based on population, call volume and a 50/50 split.

County Administrator Nathan Kennedy said, based on the consultants report, the city and the county would spend more money overall than anticipated, but they don’t have to follow all of the recommendations.

“It’s expensive. We still need to digest that report and decide what do we really absolutely need to buy and not buy. If it’s something we’ll need to do, we’ll do it. If we need to find other solutions, we will,” he said.

Many details, including the location, staffing and labor relations, still need to be decided.

“The good news here is that we’re still all committed to pursuing the consolidation and to working through the details,” Bodenmiller said.

Combs said officials should save money as the new technology will be able to handle more calls with less people.

The new system would have mobile dispatching, reduce radio traffic and combine the warrant systems, but officials would also need to establish a records division, he said.

The city and county don’t have unlimited resources for a state-of-the-art facility, Kelly said, and the biggest cost is personnel.

“It doesn’t make a difference what kind of technology you have if you don’t have people to answer the call … We can’t afford to go out and buy the Cadillac, we’ve got to have people to drive the old car,” Kelly said. “We’ll get there. But the first step is to get everybody in the same room.”

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