Stow voters could decide the city's participation in a regional dispatch center
STOW – The voters may have two ways to make a decision about a regional dispatch Center in November.
An amendment made to the city charter last year requires voters to decide whether they want to become part of a regional dispatch center. The amendment was Issue 41 on the November 2019 ballot. Approved by the voters with 68.26% in favor, the amended the charter states municipal leaders must obtain voters’ approval before the city enters an agreement to “transfer control” of its dispatch center from the city to “a regional or multi-agency control.”
Council members in 2019 said the transfer of control of a dispatch center created a Council of Government where Stow would no longer have sole control of safety forces and said plans for a regional dispatch failed to show any benefit or cost savings to the city.
Now municipalities are talking about the COG and a single dispatch center, with the former Weaver Workshop at the corner of Howe Avenue and state Route 91 in Tallmadge as the chosen site.
Council members said June 25 they would have to put the issue on the ballot in November in order to be ready for plans to create a regional dispatch center. Also, the Charter Review Commission on June 24 looked at repealing the amended section of the charter to allow administration and council to decide more quickly on whether to join a regional dispatch center.
Then-council member Jim Costello, who is now finance director, was against Issue 41 last year because representatives were elected to make those type of decisions. Voters would not have all the information to make an informed decision and other municipalities such as Tallmadge and Mogadore, which are handled by Stow, would go with the regional dispatch center with a loss of about $500,000 in revenue per year.
Last year, Stow joined with the county and Akron, Fairlawn, Green and Cuyahoga Falls in spending $3.95 million on a Computer-Aided Dispatch system that will be used in their separate dispatch centers to communicate with more safety forces in Summit County. The county can have a CAD system without a COG.
Summit County, Akron, Green and the University of Akron Police Department officially launched the new computer-aided dispatch system in October 2019. The dispatch operations of Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn and Stow are expected to go live on the consolidated system in July.
Fire Chief Mark Stone and Police Captain Bryan Snavely spoke to the charter review commission June 24.
Snavely said the city administration was positively leaning toward regionalism of a dispatch center as a potential good, long-term option for the city. Cities have been talking for four years about regionalization.
Stone said keeping the Stow dispatch in one location was unrealistic and the decision for a central dispatch center was an administrative decision, which has been studied for years.
“My concern is how do we educate the public regarding the best route toward dispatch,” Stone said. “Technology allows us to do our job anywhere. Our data base is not located in this building. The dispatchers are in the building but the bulk of information is stored elsewhere.”
The dispatch centers are halfway through implementing the CAD system and the next phase is regionalism of the dispatch center, Snavely said.
Charter review chair John Baranek said they could put the section before the voters to repeal, and then city officials and council could approve regionalization instead of voters, which would require a special election or general election to make a decision.
If the county decided to move forward with a regional dispatch center, going to the voters with the issue would delay Stow’s decision, Stone said. The county wouldn’t wait for Stow.
Snavely said Stow is the third largest city in the county and by getting in on the ground floor, Stow would be one of the decision makers.
“Timing is a critical factor,” Snavely said. “Stow is unique in that we have this ballot language to contend with at the moment. We are a piece of the puzzle when all these entities are trying to come together, but we have another hurdle to deal with and can cause a problem for the project.”
At the June 25 council meeting, the administration proposed letting the voters decide whether to join the regional dispatch center.
Stow Police Chief Jeff Film said the city and county’s goal was to improve services and collaborative approach has been successful in other communities.
“The administration wants to educate council members and the community about why this is the city’s best option,” Film said.
The proposed charter amendment would require voter approval that would transfer control from the city of Stow to a regional dispatch center, he said.
“It is in our best interest to move forward and allow citizens to vote this fall,” Film said.
Deputy Director of Public Safety in Summit County Lori Pesci said it is not the county’s project.
“It’s a collaborative project and everyone has an equal part,” Pesci said. “Every participant has a seat at the table.”
Jason Roblin, project manager for MCM Consulting Group, said the location selected for the new regional center was in Tallmadge at Howe and Darrow roads, 3.8 miles from Stow’s current dispatch center.
Brian Nelsen, chief of staff for County Executive Ilene Shapiro, said he has been working on consolidated dispatch for four years and they have upgraded the CAD system and are looking at a consolidated dispatch with collaborative roles.
Everyone in the county who participates are partners and help with mutual aid and are able to talk to one another, Nelsen said.
Dispatchers can see who is closest to an incident and respond without being restricted by city boundaries, he said. If a dispatcher receives a call from the Walmart in Stow, a Cuyahoga Falls police office may be closer.
“No one cares who as long as someone responds fast,” Nelsen said. “They know where community cars are and dispatch calls the nearest car. The advances in technology are amazing.”
Mayor David Kline of Tallmadge said the city of Tallmadge was committed to a regional dispatch center and moved to Stow in 2008. With the county-owned facility in Tallmadge, all Summit County dispatch centers can join by forming a COG.
Council President Sindi Harrison said they would review the information and discuss it with first responders.
“We’ll have additional questions for this group,” she said.
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at recordpub.com