STOW -- A plan for a proposed regional dispatch center between three cities and the county has taken a major step forward.

A memorandum of understanding was signed June 1 by Stow Mayor Sara Kline, Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters, Tallmadge Mayor Dave Kline and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro to "mutually determine the process" to implement the consolidation of the separate dispatch operations.

This was the first action taken in many months regarding the proposal that the cities started looking at more than two years ago.

"The MOU provides the county and the cities of Cuyahoga Falls, Stow and Tallmadge with a roadmap of how to implement a professional and collaborative dispatch operation which will serve the needs of all communities involved," said Shapiro.

The four entities have been in discussions about the benefits of consolidating their dispatch operations "in the face of rising infrastructure, equipment, software, staffing and training costs," said Shapiro. The proposal began with the idea of Stow, Cuyahoga Falls and Tallmadge forming a combined dispatch service under the supervision of a Council of Governments; the county joined in the discussion late last year. The COG would be governed by a board of trustees, which typically includes mayors and possible other community officials, such as police and fire chiefs and City Council members.

Stow Mayor Kline updated Stow City Council with the news of the MOU at the June 8 meeting. Kline referred to the MOU as a "good faith" show of intent by the parties.

"The MOU . . . represents a significant step forward in the process of creating a multi-jurisdictional dispatch center that will serve the public with enhanced capabilities, excellent service and optimal operational efficiencies," said Sara Kline

Previously, Sara Kline said the goal was to form the COG by the end of 2016, with dispatch operations up and running in mid-2017, but as yet, legislation has not yet been introduced in any of the three City Councils to do so. The three City Councils and County Council would all have to approve any final plans for the regional dispatch and COG.

Officials have stated that all Stow and Cuyahoga Falls dispatchers would retain jobs and the sheriff's department last year described its dispatch center as "understaffed." And even with collaboration, some hiring would be needed.

Once the COG is formed, it would establish bylaws, set fees and dues schedule and begin purchasing equipment. Annual reports would be required to be made to each Council, and the COG would become a separate employer from the cities, which would result in any present collective bargaining agreements ending.

At that time, the dispatchers would determine if they wanted to organize and if so, the COG would negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the new dispatcher union.

"We are incredibly fortunate here in Cuyahoga Falls to have the established relationships between communities that allow for a multi-jurisdictional collaboration of this caliber, and we are proud to be a part of it," stated Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters. "This consolidation is the most efficient way that our respective communities can come together to help ensure savings while continuing to provide high-quality services to our residents."

Walters stressed forming a regional dispatch center will not affect how 911 calls will be handled when residents have emergencies.

According to the MOU, the next step is to hire a consultant to assist with identifying and implementing a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system that will serve the consolidated operation, as well as other communities in Summit County who may contract to use the system. The communities, along with Mogadore, were previously awarded a $500,000 grant from the state to pursue the joint-use CAD system. Additionally, the consultant will assist the communities with selecting a location for the consolidated dispatch operation and will advise the communities on the processes, procedures and best-practices for implementing the consolidated dispatch operation. Sara Kline said the cost for the consultant would be under $100,000 and divided among the four entities. She added the hiring of a consultant was not expected to take place before August and the county is taking the lead on that step. All four entities would review the proposals and come to a mutual decision in the choice of a consultant and costs involved.

Currently, besides dispatching for themselves, Stow dispatches for Tallmadge, Mogadore and Randolph Township and Cuyahoga Falls presently dispatches for Munroe Falls and Silver Lake through service contracts.

The three cities last year focused on the possibility of leasing 5,000 square feet at the rear of the Summit County Health Department building on Graham Road near Route 8. Officials have said the space would be secured to prevent unauthorized entry, provide enough area for current operations, as well as future expansion if other communities decide they want the dispatch center to provide them with dispatching under service contracts.

That plan has not been universally popular. Stow Council members Brian Lowdermilk and Bob Adaska have both said they want dispatch to remain in the city's safety center and they believe there is room there for expansion.

Tallmadge Mayor Kline said he is "very excited ... it's a great thing for Tallmadge and for the other communities to consolidate, and great for the whole region, really. It's not new to us, and we know it works.

"A few years ago, the city of Tallmadge committed to combining its dispatch center with the city of Stow," said David Kline. "Because of this, Tallmadge is now enjoying improved operational and administrative efficiencies that were not previously possible."

"The goal for law enforcement should always be to continually improve services for the safety of our citizens, as well as keeping our law enforcement officers and civilian staff members as safe as possible," said Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry. "Collaboration and cooperation between agencies is the most effective solution and most fiscally responsible way to accomplish this goal."