County leaders call for patience on dispatching improvements
YOUNGSTOWN — Poland Township officials addressed their concerns Thursday to Mahoning County commissioners about having two dispatching services for police and fire calls.
But they were reminded of how much better the system works now than it used to — and were asked to be patient for more improvements.
Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro started the discussion by saying that in the past five years, Poland Township has “made great progress with the sheriff and everyone else working on trying to get Poland in one 911 center,” but the township wants something better.
Ungaro mentioned that Austintown is willing to handle Poland Township police calls, “which would create more safety for or residents” by having both police and fire calls handled by the same call center. Currently Boardman handles Poland Township’s police 911 calls.
Township officials met June 7 with the three-person Mahoning County Council of Governments to ask that the Austintown offer be accepted.
“We’re the lowest form of government. We’re nothing, but we take those calls,” he said of phone calls from unhappy Poland Township residents. “We’re just here to ask for help, and we thank you for all of the help we have already gotten,” Ungaro said.
Poland Township Trustee Joanne Wollett told the commissioners about attending the June 7 meeting of COG, which is made up of Boardman Police Chief Todd Werth, Austintown Police Chief Bob Gavalier and Sheriff Jerry Greene. The council manages issues associated with the dispatching for 12 of the county’s police departments.
Wollet said the discussion focused on the history of the dispatching centers and the finances, “but the bottom line remains the same. The words emergency, hang on, or emergency wait, they just don’t belong together.”
She said there is another COG meeting July 12, and COG members said the question of moving Poland Township’s police calls to Austintown would be voted on then.
Maj. Bill Cappabianca of the sheriff’s office then told the commissioners, “We hear Poland loud and clear. We understand what they are asking, and there are a lot of logistics that come with that type of move.”
He said the change would involve issues of “staffing, finances, moving of 911 lines from which (reception) towers they hit to the dispatch centers, as well as emergency medical dispatch training, which comes with that. A lot of logistics that the (COG) board has to work out to see if it is feasible.”
He said it “would be great” if the COG could put the county’s police and fire departments in the same 911 center. “That’s a long-term goal, and we are working toward it. We’ve taken a lot of steps, and we are very proud of our council of governments, our radio system we have in Mahoning County.
“Other areas of the state of Ohio are very envious of the radio system the commissioners and (Austintown and Boardman townships in the COG) have built. Now it’s just putting icing on the cake in getting to where Poland wants us to be as well as the other governments want us to be,” Cappabianca said.
He said he asks “for patience, and we will get there.”
Greene then added when the current system was created about five years ago, the COG board decided to invest in the two “state-of-the-art systems” in Boardman and Austintown “and (the county) become one-third owner of that COG, which the (county) commissioners are.”
The distribution of the police departments between the two call centers was done according to the number of calls received by each department “to make the load of work fair amongst everybody. It’s not perfect, but it’s not perfect pretty much anywhere. We work towards that,” Greene said.
The question Poland Township is raising is complex because the current system evolved “over many years.” He said the discussion with Poland Township at the June 7 meeting focused on the challenges of accommodating Poland Township.
“The biggest problem right now is hiring employees and staffing dispatch centers because they are losing employees just as law enforcement is, just like medical is, just like ambulance services going out of business. I could go on and on,” Greene said.
He said the goal is to have one primary dispatch center and one backup, but there are “other agencies that have dispatch centers that don’t want to give up their dispatch centers.”
He said he thinks area police chiefs would admit that the current arrangement is “more efficient now and better” than before the current radio system went into effect several years ago.
He said under the old radio system, “there were dead spots all over the county” where first responders could not communicate with dispatchers. “We knew by investing in this new radio system and becoming part of this COG, it was going to make that radio system 10 times more powerful,” he said.
Poland Township Police Chief Greg Wilson said he agreed that the current system is “10 times better than it ever was. However, we’re here asking you for any assistance you can give us not only for Poland Township police but Poland Village police.” He said the village police chief has told him he would prefer to have Poland Village and Poland Township and their joint fire district all dispatched by the same center.
County Administrator Audrey Tillis added that the commissioners “have been supportive of the board of COG when there is a need.” She said if the COG board sees a need and makes a recommendation, the COG board members will ask the county commissioners “and address it at that time.”
Commissioner Carol Rimedio Rigetti said, “In a perfect world, we would have a full system” that covers the police and fire departments. “It takes a lot of money and a lot of hours of trying to put it together, so (have) patience with us.”