Towards the end of last week, the SCPR got a telephone call from a county official saying that Stark County's fire chiefs had met recently and voted to reject Nimishillen Fire Chief Rich Peterson's "alternative" to centralized, countywide 9-1-1 dispatch.
The official said that the information had come from Stark County Council of Governments (SCOG) Governance Committee chair Randy Gonzalez.
The Report immediately began contacting alternative sources for confirmation or disaffirmation of the reported Gonzalez read.
This is what yours truly has learned.
North Canton Fire Chief John Bacon told the SCPR that the Peterson Plan (which he now calls the Fire Chiefs' Plan) is the plan that Stark's fire chiefs will present to the Technical Advisory Committee of SCOG at its January 22nd meeting.
Bacon said that not only did the fire chiefs not reject Peterson's alternative, but that they voted "unanimously" to adopt the plan as their own.
One of the leading proponents of a centralized, countywide Plan; namely, Ted Heck, fire chief in Gonzalez's home area (Gonzalez is the elected fiscal officer in Jackson), voted in favor of the alternative plan.
Bacon said that the vote was not anti-centralized, countywide dispatch, but that the Peterson Plan is doable within six months whereas the Gonzalez Plan (a SCPR phrase coined by The Report as a shorthand reference to the centralized, countywide plan) will not be up and running for two years.
The fire chiefs believe they are putting community safety first by doing the fix now (within six months) and not delaying the project for up to two years.
The Peterson plan, according to Bacon, can be done with the money currently available to support 9-1-1 (the cellphone surcharge and the small property tax levy) and no money collected from the commissioner "imposed" sales/use tax (December, 2008) will be needed. However, the Peterson Plan does not include all first reponders having 800 megahertz radios.
Bacon does not deny that there may be a turf issue involved in the Peterson Plan for the benefit of Peterson and Nimishillen Township trustees. However, he said that he was willing to abide that possibility because he feels that the alternative, in terms of the timing issue, puts the safety of Stark Countians first.
The SCPR maintains that the Peterson/Nimishillen self-interest is a primary motivation for Peterson's Plan. The Report accepts Bacon's take that parochial interests can be accepted when "the greater county good" is also achieved contemporaneously.
More troublesome to the SCPR are the positions of Commissioner Bosley and Governance Committee chair Gonzalez.
Why were they so set on going centralized and countywide dispatch in "one fell swoop?"
Why not get the fixes done immediatley within the concepts of four to five dispatch centers with up-to-date equipment which makes calling 9-1-1 seamless to callers and which will be state-of-the-art in terms of identifying locations of cellphone callers?
The Report suspects that if there are politics involved, it is coming more likely from the commissioners' office and from Gonzalez than from the professional emergency services folks.
A main ingredient in Bosley becoming commissioner was his embracing of Peterson's Plan , as a central aspect of his campaign, when he decided to take on incumbent Republican county commissioner Richard Regula in 2006.
Along the way Bosley got off of the Peterson Plan and bought into the Gonzalez Plan.
It was Commissioner Bosley who conceived the idea of imposing the 0.50 percent increase in the sales/use tax and sold fellow commissioners Republican Jane Vignos (since retired) and Democrat Tom Harmon (since resigned) on the idea. In December, 2008 the commissioners imposed the tax.
A major part of the tax was splitting the revenue with the county's general fund. County administrator Mike Hanke has been saying for some time now that substantial cuts in county department budgets would be in the offing by 2011, if additional revenues were not found. In fact, the county is looking at a average of 3.5% cuts (on average) across Stark County government dependent on general fund monies.
The SCPR believes that Bosley saw the imposed tax as being a way to further his future political ambitions (i.e. the "fixer" of 9-1-1 is a natural progression from his 2006 campaign) and, at the same time, he could make his future as county commissioner financially viable by bringing additional funds in to county general fund coffers.
Gonzalez has many government roles in Stark County, one of which is being Stark County Democratic Party chairman.
As readers know, the SCPR is not wild about party chairpersons having a government role. The Report repeatedly expressed a sour attitude about John Ferrero, county prosecutor, having been Stark County Democratic party chairman before becoming prosecutor.
Party chairpersons are about "political power" and what it can do to enhance them and their constituents (candidates for office and elected officials). In the opinion of the SCPR, Gonzalez and "his many political irons in the fire, is not the best person to be heading up the Governance Committee effort. It should be someone who is not so ensconced in Stark County politics.
Gonzalez and Bosley have already locked horns over who should be the 9-1-1 project manager. Bosley fought long and hard to make Nimishillen Fire Chief Rich Peterson that person. In a classic and ironical "politics makes strange bedfellows" twist; it is interesting that Peterson and Bosley - once bosom buddies - are now squaring off on 9-1-1.
Politics have a way of working themselves out (i.e. "shifting political alliances), and longer term Stark County may well indeed get over the politics of fixing 9-1-1 and eventually get to the Gonzalez Plan.
Bacon is hopeful such will be the case.
One lingering issue is, if the Technical Advisory Committee accepts the chiefs' recommendation, what to do with the money collected for the Gonzalez Plan from the imposed tax?
Bosley has already suffered one defeat on this issue.
While Harmon was still a commissioner, he brought up for a vote what to do with the monies collected post-voter rejection of retaining the tax.
The decision: put it into a "stabilization fund (aka a "rainy day fund"). Administrator Hanke had asked the commissioners for guidance on the tax revenues because the formulation of the 2010 budget is underway and Hanke and his fellow administrators needed a financial basis on which to project cuts to county departments.
Bosley vigorously objected. He insisted that half the money go towards implementing the Gonzalez Plan.
By the way, Hanke tells the SCPR that the "rainy day fund" could reach $6 to 7 million before the county needs to dip into it come 2011.
Some final notes:
The SCPR was not well taken with the "Vote No Increased Taxes Committee." Now The Report has somewhat of a changed look at the work the Committee did in convincing Stark Countians not to retain the imposed tax.
The Committee did create conditions for the Peterson Plan to see the light of day and the SCPR recognizes the Committee for this contribution of time and space for a reconsideration of how and on what timetable Stark County fixes 9-1-1.
However, a big negative remains. Stark County does indeed need new money beginning in 2011 for its general fund.
One more thing.
If the Technical Advisory Committee accepts the Peterson (err) Fire Chiefs' Plan, what will come of the money being held for the Gonzalez Plan implementation?
Bacon says that is for the politicians (Bosley, Ferguson and Meeks) to figure out.
The SCPR does believe that the commissioners and Governance Committee chairman Gonzalez care about the safety of Stark Countians.
However, the SCPR trusts the fire chiefs, police chiefs and emergency medical chiefs to filter out the politics inherent in the situation more effectively than folks running for elective office.