STOW – Council members unanimously voted to place the question before the voters about whether they should authorize the mayor and administration to talk with other communities about a regional dispatch center.
Last year voters created a charter amendment that requires the approval of the electors of the city of Stow prior to entering into any agreement that would transfer control of the Safety Services Communication Center from the city of Stow to a regional or multi-agency control.
Council president Sindi Harrison (Ward 2) amended the legislation to have "transfer control of the Safety Services Communication Center to a regional dispatch" instead of "join a regional dispatch center" in the ballot language so that it would conform to the charter language.
The Summit County Board of Elections would have the final say on the ballot language.
Mayor John Pribonic said the voters would vote in November, which is the option they chose in 2019 when they amended the charter concerning a regional dispatch center.
"The public asked to vote on this when we got to this point," Pribonic said. "We are looking at moving it to the board of elections and letting the people vote on it which gives us the ability to negotiate a regional dispatch center."
In order to reach the board of elections’ Aug. 5 deadline to be on the November ballot, the legislation needed to be passed as emergency legislation.
"The need for the emergency clause states it is needed for the immediate preservation of public health and safety," said Police Chief Jeff Film. "That’s what our dispatch center does every day. We closely examined the benefits and costs of a regional dispatch center, and we and the administration support and believe this is the way to head."
Voters would allow the discussions to continue, Film said. The administration would educate the public about a regional dispatch center.
Council member Jeremy McIntire (At-Large) was against suspending the rules at the first reading. He said he had no problem moving it onto the ballot but wanted more information to educate himself and other council members.
McIntire said the legislation didn’t quality as a safety measure or emergency in order to suspend the rules and said all legislation should receive three readings, adding the emergency clause was abused by previous councils.
Law director Jaime Syx said it was more than meeting the Aug. 5 deadline. The dispatch center is responsible for dispatching safety forces in any emergency situation. If the city of Stow does not have permission from voters to negotiate membership in a regional dispatch center, they would not be allowed to participate in any negotiations.
"If it doesn’t go to the ballot, all negotiations come to a halt," Syx said. "It means that we lose out on providing our city with the best technology out there. The emergency clause has been abused in the past but this is not one of those times," Syx added.
Unlike normal legislation which is given three readings to allow the public to give its opinion and a chance for referendum, this legislation was an administrative action and would not be subject to referendum, Syx said. Council can only vote on the language and not on the substance of the legislation.
"This relates to our dispatch center and we are losing out on opportunities that would be a great benefit for our city," Syx said. "Until you give voters the chance to vote on it, the administration can’t have further discussions on it and all these other cities are waiting to hear if Stow is participating so they can have more discussions."
McIntire said the preservation of public health and safety was not on the line because the city has a full operations safety center.
The city of Tallmadge is part of the city of Stow’s dispatch center but Mayor David Kline has said Tallmadge would move to the regional dispatch center and Stow would lose approximately $500,000 a year in revenue for its dispatch center.
Finance director Jim Costello said the city spends $1.5 million to operate its dispatch center. Members of the regional dispatch center would decide how to run the joint operation, but without the approval of voters, Stow would not be part of those discussions.
"We cannot go any further without going to the electorate," Costello said.
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