EMERGENCY CALLS Ellwood City to switch to county 911 service
The county stands to lose $800,000 if Ellwood City does not comply with the law.
By MARY GRZEBIENIAK
ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. -- A closed-door meeting with Lawrence County commissioners and county 911 director Frank Janetti apparently has convinced Ellwood City Council that it must use the county's 911 service.
The problem is what to do with the borough's three full- and two part-time dispatchers.
It appears that council is considering retaining borough dispatchers to continue handling the majority of calls to the borough building -- most of those are not 911 calls -- as well as to do clerical and other duties their job entails.
What's next: After Tuesday's one-hour meeting with commissioners and another one-hour closed session after they left, George Celli, borough council president, said borough manager Joe Cioffi will make a study of borough dispatching before any action is taken.
Council members would make no other comments, and their solicitor, Ed Laymarie Jr., said no final decisions about the dispatchers have been made.
But commissioners were clear as they left that they will not compromise their demand that Ellwood City use the county 911 service.
Here's the situation: The county 911 center now phones Ellwood City dispatchers when the center receives a 911 call for the borough. Borough dispatchers then send police.
Because the borough's dispatchers are not state certified, however, this arrangement violates state rules. The 911 center can comply only if it bypasses borough dispatchers and radios police directly.
Robert W. Foor, the Pennsylvania 911 coordinator, informed the county last month that if the situation is not remedied within three months, the county will lose out on $800,000 in county 911 funds.
Lawrence County residents pay $1.25 monthly on each telephone line for 911 service. The money goes to the state, which then sends it back to the county.
Commissioner Ed Fosnaught said, "We agreed to work with the borough, but we are not going to violate the law."
The borough could, however, retain its clerical staff, which could continue dispatching non-911 calls, Commissioner Brian Burick said as he left.
Celli hinted at the same solution, commenting that the majority of calls borough dispatchers receive are not an emergency and that dispatchers have clerical duties, too.
The dispatchers, who belong to Local 964 of Laborers International Union of North America, have a contract which runs until the end of the year.
Borough dispatcher Theresa Pietrandrea, who waited outside the closed meeting, said the female dispatchers also help with women prisoners who are kept overnight at the holding cell at the municipal building.
Other possibilities: She commented that both Butler and Beaver counties have satellite 911 centers at local police departments that do their own dispatching and questioned why Ellwood City could not become such a satellite.
She said Ellwood could even serve as a backup to the county in case of a power outage at the 911 center.
Burick commented, however, that Pennsylvania is phasing out satellite 911 centers. Lawrence County, therefore, does not have the option to designate Ellwood City as a satellite dispatching center, he added.