When Stow Dispatch Supervisor Ginger Hatfield walked around a now vacant portion of the Summit County Health Department building on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls Sept. 27, she expressed why she sees it as a frontrunner for a proposed regional dispatch center.
"As soon as I saw this place, I said, 'This is a dispatch center," said Hatfield.
"It looks like it's built for it," said Stow City Councilor John Pribonic as he walked with her.
Stow, Cuyahoga Falls and Tallmadge are considering forming a Council of Governments, with the goal of doing so by the end of the year, in order to create a regional dispatch center by the middle of next year. About 5,000 square feet at the rear of the health department building, on the south side of Graham and just west of Route 8, is the leading contender among three locations that have been considered.
Hatfield and Pribonic were among about 20 area officials looking at the site, some for the first time.
The space includes one large room for dispatch consoles, along with office space, an equipment room, a kitchen and bathrooms.
"We have the ability to put 16 consoles in here" said Stow Fire Capt. Paul Amonett. "It's basically a big open space we can build on. That's what we're looking for."
Stow Mayor Sara Kline said a lease agreement with the county is still being negotiated. Work to be done on the building would include securing the entrance and constructing walls to separate the dispatch center from the rest of the building.
"So people really can't come in here," she said.
Kline acknowledged that the building sustained "significant [flood] damage" during the May 2014 storm, but new drainage infrastructure that has been reviewed by the city's engineering department has been installed to prevent a similar occurrence.
"It's something we had questions about," said Kline.
Kline said if the health department ever decides to sell the building, "we would have right of first refusal with what we want to do, which we would not have with other locations."
Cuyahoga Falls' dispatch is located in Fire Station 5 on Wyoga Lake Road, while Stow's is at the Safety Center on Darrow Road.
Cuyahoga Falls presently dispatches all calls for Cuyahoga Falls, Munroe Falls and Silver Lake Village while Stow fields calls for Stow, Tallmadge, Mogadore and Randolph Township in Portage County through service contracts. Stow has 15 employees and Cuyahoga Falls, 11. Officials have said none of the dispatchers will lose their job.
Munroe Falls City Councilor Chris Ritzinger, who was present at the Sept. 27 inspection tour with fellow Councilors Jenny Markovich and Jim Iona, said he believes forming the COG "makes sense."
"It's a good idea," he said. "It appears that the cities are working together more than they did in the past."
Ritzinger said he questioned why Tallmadge was invited to join the COG and not Munroe Falls and found it was because ownership issues could become too complicated if there was a mixture of larger and smaller communities.
"I don't know if Munroe Falls wants to be part of the COG. Maybe we just want to be a customer," he said.
At a Sept. 20 joint Council meeting, Amonett said creating the regional dispatch center would be a cost savings to Stow and Cuyahoga Falls, especially in terms of equipment upgrades. He described Stow's radio system as "coming to end of life."
Information distributed at the meeting showed the estimated combined costs for Stow and Cuyahoga Falls to maintain separate dispatch centers would require approximately $3.4 million in upgrades. Completing a joint dispatch center showed estimated costs of $2.7 million, including about $1.5 million in build-outs at the health department, $940,000 in upgrades and a 10 percent contingency of $243,000. Amonett said Motorola was building out the radio system to 2039, with service for that time period included in the bids. He added phone systems tend to turn over faster.
The state is also providing an incentive. A state mandate took effect this year requiring Summit County to designate five public service answering points (PSAPs) to handle wireless calls to 911 and receive state funding. Selected were dispatch centers in Akron; the Summit County Sheriff's Office in Akron; Cuyahoga Falls; Stow; and the Southwest Summit Communications Center in Green.
When Ohioans pay their cell phone bills, 25 cents per month goes to a state surcharge to help fund wireless PSAPs. That revenue is then distributed to counties, which decide how the funds will be distributed to communities that operate PSAPs.
The state mandate further requires that by Jan. 1, 2018, the county must reduce the number of its PSAPs receiving wireless 911 funding from five to four, and new 911 call technology must be installed at that point.
Hatfield said during the Sept. 20 meeting that the mandate would result in one of the five PSAPs losing funding, making consolidation of Stow and Cuyahoga Falls an economical move.
Senior editor Marsha McKenna contributed to this story.
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