A plan for a proposed regional dispatch center between three cities and the county has taken a major step forward. But one Councilman is not happy with the movement.
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.
Stow Mayor Kline updated Stow City Council with the news of the MOU at Council's 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 Kline.
Councilman Brian Lowdermilk and Kline exchanged some angry words during the June 8 Council meeting after Lowdermilk complained that despite the MOU being signed a week before, Council had only learned of it earlier that day when Kline emailed it to Council members.
Kline noted that there had been no public meetings since the signing, but Lowdermilk said this was an unsatisfactory explanation after Kline also said, "We worked on the [memorandum] for weeks prior to [June 1]."
Lowdermilk said Council had meetings during that time period, including scheduling time during committee of the whole meetings for COG updates, but there was never any mention of an MOU in the works.
"There's one of two things going on here," said Lowdermilk to the mayor. "Either you really didn't want us to have a chance to read it or, I don't even know what the other one is."
Kline asked "Should I provide drafts of everything I do prior to being finalized?" and said, "I've offered Mr. Lowdermilk number of times to meet with me and he's refused. He just does public records requests."
"I take offense," she said. "I think your accusations and insinuations are very inappropriate. I've always answered public records requests and if you want to cast aspersions on my character, be bold enough to do it outright and not with insinuations."
Previously, 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.
"I think I've been very clear I wanted to do this sooner rather than later because of the deadlines bearing down on us for equipment purchases and whatnot," said Kline June 12.
These deadlines, she said, include a state mandate requiring an upgrade of dispatch equipment that is looming, said Kline, and the $500,000 grant needs to be spent by the end of March 2018.
"But at the end of the day, we have to do this correctly," said Kline. "We have to make sure that we make the best decisions. We're doing this once -- God, I hope we're doing this once -- and we need to make sure we make the right decisionsSo by early 18, everybody needs to have purchased [the equipment]. Whether we purchase them individually and then move them to a multi-jurisdictional combined dispatch center or we're able to move the timelines that we purchase them and have them installed in the new operational facility remains to be seen, but I can certainly guarantee that the goal is to be as expeditious as is efficiently possible."
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.
Council President Mike Rasor said June 8, "It sounds like we'll have to have a preliminary vote to participate in the cost of the consultant, which will not bind us to the COG as a city."
"With the caveat," said Kline, "that if it is below the [Stow] board of control limits, then it will not be Council's vote. I don't anticipate that will be the case, but as all of you know, the board of control limits are $15,000. If Stow's share is less than $15,000, it may be approved at board of control."
Lowdermilk said that even if the board of control approves the spending, he hopes Kline will "let [Council] know what that cost is."
"I just think it would be appropriate in this case that we be as transparent as possible to all the residents on what we're spending on this," added Lowdermilk.
"I couldn't agree more," replied Kline.
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.
Sara Kline said June 12, however, that the location of a combined dispatch is one aspect that the consultant would look at.
"It could be that the recommendation will be the health department is the best location," she said. "It could be that there are other sites that are being evaluated and/or ideas that the consultant might have that we haven't thought of. That was absolutely one of the reasons we wanted to have the consultant."
The plan to form a COG has not been universally popular. Lowdermilk and Stow Councilor 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.
Lowdermilk said during the June 8 meeting that the $500,000 state grant could be used by the involved entities to create a joint CAD system without combining dispatch operations.
"To take advantage of this CAD system, it does not require that we form a COG," said Lowdermilk. "We can participate in a new upgraded system."
Sara Kline acknowledged this to the Stow Sentry later, but said there are advantages to forming a COG, including "shared efficiencies" in terms of staffing and equipment purchases and reducing redundancy in these areas.
"Can this operate separate from a COG? Yes it can," she said. "The benefits to forming a multi-jurisdictional dispatch center via a COG or any other process provides a lot of benefits that we don't have if we remain separate."
Other Council members did not comment on the matter or on the MOU in general. Rasor did not provide a comment when asked by email before press time.
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