Political conflicts delay 911 merger agreement

WARREN -- Trumbull County and all of its local governments will have to share the tools needed to make repairs to the county's 911 operation.
A consultant who spelled out for county commissioners what needs to happen found during his homework here that some persuasion may be needed.
"The political conflict between the townships and county is somewhat unique" here, compared to what he's seen in other states and communities, said Marc W. Bono, associate director in public safety at RCC Consultants Inc., an international company with 911 as one of its specialties.
Tim Gladis, county 911 director, would not dispute the uniqueness of the conflict.
"These are all concepts that have been around literally for years," he said of bringing more communities into the county 911 family and spreading out the funding burden. "Essentially the reluctance of the localities to give up local control has been the main impediment."
The 911 Center in Howland Township dispatches for 22 townships, four villages, Cortland and the sheriff. Its current 911 Review Board should be given more of a role in budget planning for the participants "so as to limit the conflict between county and townships over contributions after the budget is developed," RCC's analysis says.
Funding work force
Another hurdle is the past staffing and dollar comparisons of the county's 911 center to dispatching operations under independent control in Liberty, Girard, Newton Falls, Warren Township, Niles, Hubbard and Lordstown.
"These kinds of comparisons we've seen, I recognize they're irresistible," Bono told county commissioners. "And I think these comparisons have been misguided because they look too narrowly at the numbers and budget."
He called such comparisons -- including those tried by the press -- "completely off base."
"The situation has been further worsened by an unfortunate series of public quotes by some officials, quotes that have eroded trust among those who must come together to resolve the current crisis," RCC's analysis states.
A county/consolidated "public safety answering point" (PSAP) and that of an individual township or city represent two very different operating models -- even though they provide essentially the same service, RCC said.
This distinction is important because county finances this year have forced cutbacks at the 911 Center, including staffing.
Reliability issues
Concerns about compromised service are motivating townships to consider leaving the county's operation in favor of providers in the communities that independently run their own dispatching.
The 911 Center is 80 percent funded by the county and 20 percent by its member communities. The recommendation by RCC that Liberty, Girard and the other independents should now join the county operation is not new.
Gladis has long argued that his center's work is complicated because each community it caters to has a unique way of wanting to do business. Dispatchers' work is made more challenging because 911 deals with five separate police and five separate fire radio frequencies.
Trumbull's 911 center, unlike the smaller operations, also answers after-hours calls for the county coroner, assists the county jail with all processing, maintains data for temporary and civil protection orders, enters all concealed weapon permits into a law enforcement database, and is the backup center for all of the other PSAPs except Liberty.
During an upsurge of activity at a small PSAP, county 911 takes the overflow, saving the smaller operations the cost of redundancy and retaining additional manpower.
Suggested staffing
RCC suggests Trumbull 911 have 25 dispatchers and four supervisors to cover 365 days a year over three shifts, similar to pre-layoff 2004 levels.
The RCC report says the notion that any one of the township PSAPs could somehow supplant the county's center -- without having to change its organization and its cost structure -- "is fallacious." The report tells local governments that keeping the county's 911 operation intact is clearly better than returning to the idea of many local answering points.
Local PSAPs receive administrative support from police departments such as payroll, technical support, scheduling and benefits. Trumbull's 911 center, though, is set up to function by itself and its supervisors take on these functions.
Township PSAPs operate with their respective police departments with supervision on a part-time basis, usually by the officer in charge who has other duties. Historically, one of the reasons cited by townships retaining an independent 911 model was so that their staffs could perform other tasks.
"The implication in that is that the call volumes are light and they can do this," Bono told the commissioners.
A multijurisdiction operation like county 911, by contrast, "has many departments in many towns to answer to, and so, needs more oversight," RCC's report says.
"You can't run a consolidated operation serving 20 townships with part-time supervisors. It just doesn't work very well," Bono added.
How things are run now
Also, the nature of the dispatching task varies.
Warren city, for example, transfers fire calls to the fire department for dispatch, but county 911 can't. Fire dispatch "significantly increases the manpower requirement for the PSAP," he said.
Warren city and Liberty Township also benefit from having "mobile data terminals." If all the police departments served by county 911 had this mobile technology, there could be further staff reductions with no loss of service quality, the report says.
A striking difference is the disparity in Law Enforcement Automated Data System activity, such as license plate checks. Because of the multiple townships, county 911 "handles more than three times the total of LEADS queries for all of the independent PSAPs combined," the report says.
Also significant is the large volume of 10-digit calls that come to county 911's administrative number from townships after business hours.
"There is no cost being borne for that to the townships. Arguably it is a free service," Bono said. "These are calls that really shouldn't be coming into a 911 center."
Another unrecognized savings in the budget comparisons is the fact that the county pays for the telecommunications services for the independent PSAPs. Their budgets "do not reflect the real cost of maintaining their operations," the report says.
Bono explained: "The county's been subsidizing their telephone bills, their telephone costs for 911 services."

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