Time is ripe for consolidation of city and county 911 systems

Last fall, we urged Mayor Charles Sammarone to be aggressive in implementing the recommendations of a Youngstown government efficiency study that warns of difficult economic times in the not-too-distant future.

Sammarone was contemplating a bid for a full four-year term this year, which would have given him the luxury of time. But, he decided to forgo the mayor’s race and is, instead, seeking a return to city council.

Sammarone, who took over as mayor in August 2011 when Jay Williams resigned to work in the Obama White House, is running for council president, a position he held prior to his promotion.

Thus, he has only eight months as the city’s chief executive to put in place most, if not all, the 50 recommendations contained in the 251-page study — “The Youngstown Plan” — conducted by the PFM Group.

A few have been implemented, resulting in savings to city government. But Sammarone and city council need to tackle the recommendations that will significantly change the way City Hall operates.

The one we believe could be done with relative easy, and which the mayor has been advocating for months, is merging the city’s emergency 911 system with Mahoning County’s.

In recommending such consolidation, the PFM group says if a city-county marriage doesn’t occur, Youngstown should explore hooking up with border communities.

As the study points out, the city and county have previously discussed consolidation because the call centers are across the street from each other.

The PFM Group identifies several stumbling blocks to such a merger: who would be charge; where the center would be housed; how the communication infrastructure would be merged; the impact on collective bargaining agreements; upfront expenses.

“The city would benefit from sharing expenses, resources, staff, functionality,” the study says. “Cost savings may take multiple years to materialize but are likely to produce long-term savings and operational efficiencies.”

There is an alternative: Youngstown could seek collaboration with Austintown and Boardman. The three communities represent the lion’s share of E-911 calls in the county.

There’s room for the county system to grow, which is why the past failures by Youngstown city officials to make a deal with the commissioners has become a point of contention for city taxpayers and for Sammarone.

The mayor, who has spent many years in city government politics, acknowledges that change is never easy, especially when it involves giving up authority.

But as the PFM study notes, the financial challenges on the horizon do not give officeholders the luxury of clinging to the status quo.

Change is inevitable — and timely, with regard to 911.

System upgraded

The county has upgraded its 911 emergency-dispatching system — without the benefit of a tax increase — from analog to state-of-the-art digital, with a single computer server in a secure location outside Mahoning County. There is a backup server outside the county.

The price tag: $2 million.

In unveiling the new equipment, including a 911 dispatching center in Youngstown, the commissioners and other officials talked about the collaboration with the cities, villages and townships that are part of the system.

Youngstown has no choice but to join with the county.

Mayor Sammarone, who brought about the county’s takeover of the city’s building inspection services, should make 911 his priority.

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