STOW -- After studying the issue for over two years, a regional dispatch center may be getting closer to being formed.

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 communities' separate dispatch operations. Stow, Cuyahoga Falls and the county all have their own dispatch centers while Stow dispatches for Tallmadge under a service contract.

Other communities are involved as well. Currently, besides dispatching for themselves, Stow also dispatches for Mogadore and Randolph Township and Cuyahoga Falls presently dispatches for Munroe Falls and Silver Lake through service contracts.

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

This was the first action taken in months regarding the proposal that the cities started looking at more than two years ago. Stow Mayor Kline has said that representatives of the county and three cities have been meeting for months, forming five groups to each discuss an aspect of the COG, including legal, financial, technology, facilities and operations.

"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.

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 is expected to be under $100,000 and divided equally among the four entities. She added the hiring of a consultant was expected to take place by August and the county is taking the lead on that step because it has the staffing to take responsibility for it.

All four entities would review the proposals and come to a mutual decision in the choice of a consultant and costs involved.

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 possibly other community officials, such as police and fire chiefs and City Council members.

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.

Currently, there is some variance as to what the entities pay their dispatchers.

According to Stow Budget and Management Director John Earle, Stow dispatchers make between $37,003.20 and $51,396.80 annually and according to Cuyahoga Falls Human Resources Director Vickie Steiner, effective July 1, Cuyahoga Falls dispatchers will make between $46,820.80 and $56,659.20 annually. Earle and Steiner said Stow's and Cuyahoga Falls' three-year contracts with their dispatchers end at the end of this year and on June 30, 2018 respectively.

According to Summit County Deputy Fiscal Officer Sarah Hegnauer, starting pay for county dispatchers is $31,386.40 and $39,748.80, depending on level of expertise. However, Hegnauer did not have information about upper pay levels and the Summit County Sheriff's Office did not respond to a request for the information before press time.

Meanwhile, sheriff department's dispatchers continue to work under a three-year contract that had expired March 31 while the county negotiates a new contract with the 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."

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."

Editor's note: Cuyahoga Falls News-Press reporter Steve Wiandt contributed to this story.

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