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TRUMBULL COUNTY 911 centers should join, analysis says



Published: Wed, July 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The county 911 operation is fairly effective and watches its money, the report says.

WARREN -- A consultant is recommending more communities -- particularly Liberty Township and Girard -- be brought into the Trumbull County 911 operation.

Also, the funding mechanism for the county's 911 is flawed, says a 43-page analysis by RCC Consultants Inc. of Tallahassee, Fla., obtained by The Vindicator.

County commissioners in May allocated $24,437 from 911 funds to hire RCC Consultants for this analysis, and will hear a presentation from RCC today.

Trumbull County now bears the greatest cost for staffing and equipment, and increasing the participants and their payments would help to address this problem, according to the analysis. Bringing Liberty and other nonmember communities into the county's 911 is recommended as soon as possible.

"Note that in our interviews, the most commonly expected obstacle to further consolidating answering points across the county was 'politics,'" the report adds.

The 911 Center in Howland Township is 80 percent funded by Trumbull County and 20 percent by member communities. Some communities -- Liberty, Girard, Newton Falls, Warren Township, Niles, Hubbard and Lordstown -- are not members.

The county 911 operation "has operated fairly effectively and demonstrated for the most part good stewardship of resources," the report says. But its funding arrangement since its 1998 outset is flawed, the report continues.

Funds issue

The problem, RCC found, is that the townships' contributions to 911 was locked at a set range regardless of actual costs. This forces the county to fund equipment replacement and wage increases, and take on additional duties.

Overhauling that formula, the report says, could involve a two-tiered payment per township of 50 percent based on usage and 50 percent based on population; or a one-time fixed upward adjustment of the townships' shares; or the county picking up the entire cost through a sales tax or some sort of assessment on residents.

The report also tells local governments that keeping the county's 911 operation intact is clearly better than returning to the idea of many local answering points.

"The townships that have participated in Trumbull County 911 have achieved significant savings over the years since the consolidation, and based on our interviews have been fairly satisfied with the service until the recent cutback," the report says.

Communication between 911 and its constituents has suffered "due to the stresses of the county's financial state," the report notes. Trumbull County's 911 Center dispatches for 20 townships, Cortland, Orangeville and the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department.

When the county's income was reduced, it was over-extended and needed to cut back. In May, commissioners approved 911 layoffs to ensure enough money will be available to keep the department running through year's end. Five dispatchers and one supervisor were cut.

Employees needed

The RCC report found the county's 911 "is currently below staffing standards" and needs more dispatchers. For now, it's recommended that staffing be restored to levels closer to those before the layoffs, but used more efficiently.

For example, the 911 Center staffing is inadequate for the busiest parts of the day, but doesn't need as many people working the midnight to 7 a.m. shift. Current across-the-board staffing for all three shifts needs scrapped in favor of four dispatchers in the morning, six in the afternoon and three after midnight.

"There is no reason to maintain the same number of people on all three shifts," the report states.

To cover a 365-day work year and allow for sick days and vacations, 25 dispatchers are needed. Trumbull 911 had 23 to 24 in 2004.

Assuming responsibility for and putting many townships onto Liberty's 911 system is also recommended. Liberty already can accept mobile data from police in the field.

Mobile data terminals in cruisers should be installed across the board, perhaps running them off of Warren's existing system, which would be kept as a backup to the county, the report says. Warren cruisers also have the mobile terminals, which cost about $6,000 each.

If the whole county had these mobile terminals, there could be "further staff reductions with no loss of quality," the report adds.

Recommended cutbacks

The county also should stop subsidizing the telephone equipment and service costs of the independent answering points, and stop answering non-emergency calls for townships after hours.

RCC is an international telecommunications consulting, integration and outsourcing company; 911 is one of its areas of specialization.

Also in the background of 911 debate is the nine-person panel, along with emergency officials in Trumbull and Mahoning counties plus Youngstown, considering a consolidation of services. A detailed analysis of the answering points in Mahoning County and Youngstown was outside the scope of RCC's services, the report notes.

The Trumbull 911 Center had a $2.1 million budget last year but faces a $614,000 shortfall this year. The county will begin to realize additional income after September from two new sales taxes imposed by commissioners in April.




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