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EMERGENCY RESPONSE Mayor seeks consolidation of 911 services



Published: Thu, February 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mahoning County budget hearings concluded Wednesday.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mayor George McKelvey has given Mahoning County 5 million reasons to consolidate the city and the county's emergency 911 centers, which are about 200 yards apart.

In a memo sent to commissioners Wednesday, the mayor wrote that the financial challenges faced by the county in its budgetary process this year provide "an opportunity for serious consolidation negotiations."

The mayor's objective is to enter into a 10-year, $5 million contract for 911 services between the city and county, or jointly seek alternative funding sources for those services. The county would take over the city's 911 dispatching.

A copy of the memo was also sent to Trumbull County commissioners. That county may have to close its 911 center because of a strained budget.

Motivation

"I have learned that it almost always takes a financial crisis for bureaucrats to be willing to look at consolidation for cost savings," the mayor said in an interview. "I'm hopeful that because of what the Mahoning and Trumbull commissioners are facing, that this offer will get somebody to move."

Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally IV said he knew the proposal was coming, and the board will give it a good look. McNally, the city's former law director, said the commissioners now, however, are focusing on trying to find enough money to run county government this year.

Budget hearings concluded Wednesday, and the board now begins the task of paring $57 million in requests to fit the anticipated $34 million to $35 million it will have to spend. McNally added the spending figure may be reduced by an additional $2 million because the county must factor in unemployment benefits that must be paid in the event of layoffs.

Trumbull commissioners were unavailable for comment.

The mayor said he knows the two services can be combined because Mahoning County once provided 911 service for the city. Over the years, he said, "turf wars" developed and politics came into play, forcing the city and county to run their own separate services. The mayor said the time is now to end such parochialism.

"This is a seamless transition. The county can provide 911 service for the entire county," the mayor said, adding that having two emergency centers so close is not fair to the taxpayer.

The mayor proposes paying the county $500,000 per year over 10 years, or giving the county a lump-sum $5 million payment. The city could issue a bond to cover the lump sum.

He said the city pays about $1.2 million in salaries and benefits for its 14 call takers. That breaks down to $12 million over 10 years.

But if Mahoning accepts the city's offer, which must be approved by council, the city could put its $7 million in savings over that period to better enhance its safety forces by adding police officers and firefighters.

The deal also gives the county $5 million it doesn't have right now.

The county's general fund pays between $700,000 and $800,000 for its 911 operation, which is now part of the county's Emergency Management Agency. It also has 14 call takers.

The county 911 center takes calls for 14 police departments, and it averages about 12,000 emergency calls a year.

City council took the initiative in April 2004 by passing an ordinance calling for the unification of the telecommunication centers. For whatever reason, the mayor said, the county did not follow up on the offer.

The ordinance specifically stated that the "city of Youngstown would be willing to support financial initiatives that would provide a permanent 911 communications funding source."

At the council's meeting Wednesday night, McKelvey told lawmakers, "We have to seize these challenging times to realize a significant cost savings by combining these services."




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