Voters will decide on dispatch center with Issue 23

Laura Freeman
Kent Weeklies
Voters will decide whether Stow dispatch will join a regional dispatch center located in Tallmadge with Issue 23 on the November ballot.

STOW – Voters will decide whether the mayor and city administration can meet with other communities to negotiate a possible regional dispatch center.

Council members unanimously voted in July to place the question before the voters on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Mayor John Pribonic said the voters in Stow would vote on Issue 23 and decide whether to give the administration the ability to negotiate a regional dispatch center plan.

The mayor, Fire Chief Mark Stone, Police Chief Jeff Film and Finance Director Jim Costello would join with the other community leaders to form a Regional Dispatch Center and City Council would be asked to approve the funds for the city's portion of the project cost.

“A lot of work has been done over the last year,” Pribonic said. “We’re at a place that this would be good for our residents and we’re bringing it forth now.”

The issue on the ballot is the first step, Pribonic said. The mayor, chiefs and finance director would negotiate a contract and present it to council for approval.

If voters reject Issue 23, the city can’t do anything, Pribonic said. The city could put it on the ballot in a future election, but other communities plan to go forward with or without Stow.

“We might have to pay more if we go at a later time or not be able to join,” Pribonic said. “It is an unknown but could happen.”

The Regional Dispatch Center will have a board, Pribonic said. The board would decide whether each city or representative has a vote and how the board would work. No decision has been made on whether a Council of Governments would be set up, said Pribonic. The dispatch center would be located in the building owned by Summit County at the corner of state Route 91 and Howe Avenue. Summit DD is using an adjacent building but plans to move to Cuyahoga Falls in 2022.

If Stow doesn't join the regional dispatch, the city would lose contracts for dispatching services for Tallmadge and Mogadore that generate $500,000 per year in revenue, he said. That could mean cutting four or five dispatchers to cover the loss.

Dispatchers are guaranteed a job at the regional facility and would be paid what the highest pay is in other communities, he said.

“Everybody will keep their job whether a dispatcher in Stow or Cuyahoga Falls or whoever signs on,” Pribonic said.“Any dispatcher that worked for us would get a raise because they go with the highest paid city, which is Cuyahoga Falls."

Although some things have been worked out, the board will need to decide the smaller details of how the Regional Dispatch Center will work, he said.

The other communities such as Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake and Munroe Falls are waiting for Stow’s vote before taking official action toward a regional dispatch center.

“People say we can stay where we are at, but we will price ourselves out to be a top-notch facility,” Pribonic said.

Technology quickly becomes outdated and it is important for a dispatch center to keep up with the latest technology.

“This is not a scare tactic,” Pribonic said. “People should be educated to vote. It’s an opportunity for us to move into the future. It is up to the people to decide. Study this issue and understand the benefits it brings.”

A Political Action Committee, Citizens for Regional Dispatch, supports Issue 23 and is passing out literature and putting up 500 signs to educate the public, said members, former Stow Mayor Karen Fritschel and former Council member Janet D’Antonio.

Fritschel said when she was mayor, she discussed a regional dispatch center with former Tallmadge Mayor Chris Grimm, but the public wasn’t ready for it.

“A lot of things have changed,” D’Antonio said. “Equipment is more expensive and if you want the latest technology, you need to share the costs.”

Both emphasized Issue 23 is not a tax. If the city participated in the regional dispatch center, there would not be an additional cost to taxpayers, according to city officials. Some of the items they list as benefits include faster response times; upgraded facility at no additional cost to the community; capable of handling major emergencies and weather events; better information for first responders; highest standard of training and quality assurance with 24/7 supervision; and saving money.

CM Consult did a report on the dispatch center and provides numbers and information and states the city of Stow could save approximately $150,000 a year, Fritschel said.

“The building [in Tallmadge] is already there," Fritschel said. “It’s only 3.8 miles away.”

D’Antonio said the safety forces are the best group for regionalism. The police and fire in different communities do the same kind of work and they know each other.

“We’re all working together on this,” Fritschel said. “It’s a non-partisan issue.”

The PAC will offer a Town Hall on Issue 23 on Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 6  – 7 p.m. It will be online with Facebook Live - more information will be on the PAC's Facebook page.

Police Chief Film and Fire Chief Stone will discuss their support for Issue 23 and answer audience questions. 

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com