Tuesday, February 28, 2012



Despite the rocky start that the repair of Stark County's 9-1-1 emergency fire, police and medical services call and dispatch operations got, it appears to the SCPR that the future is looking better for a "state of the art" call receiving and dispatch center to emerge from the ashes of a broken system as reported in 2008.

Stark Countians should pause to reflect upon the contributions of the likes of former Stark County commissioners Todd Bosley (a Democrat), Tom Harmon (a Democrat) and Jane Vignos (a Republican).  They proved that Democrats and Republicans can work together for the common Stark County good.

Their key contribution was to forge ahead with imposing a 0.5% sales tax increase in December, 2008, some of which was set aside for the rehab of the dispatch and radio side of a 9-1-1 rebuild. 

While the imposition of the tax (which included revenues for the Stark County general fund that likely rankled the public the most) probably resulted in Bosley losing badly to the now former state Representative Todd Snitchler (now Ohio PUCO chair) for Stark's 50th District House seat, it was far from clear that the tax could have passed a vote of the people.  Consequently, the SCPR believes that Bosley made a politically costly move in pushing for the imposed tax in support of his endeavor to get 9-1-1 fixed.

Another key player who is still actively involved in the rehab is Stark County Council of Governments (SCOG) Governing Board Chairman (and Jackson Township fiscal officer) Randy Gonzalez.

Gonzalez has been the personification of commitment to the rebuild  of Stark's 9-1-1.  He has been intent on seeing it brought up to date, going back some 20 years or so.  But in persisting, he has had to deal with repeated frustrations.

First and foremost was finding a funding mechanism to do the fix with.  Bosley's tax initiative somewhat solved that issue.  Somewhat? Yes, in the sense that the tax was repealed by a massive citizen negative reaction to the tax being imposed on.  It was repealed by about a 2/3rds majority in November, 2009.

Another frustration for Gonzalez has been, and continues to be, Nimishillen Township's refusal, under the stubborn leadership of its Fire Chief Rich Peterson (seemingly holding the Nimishillen Township trustees in thrall - no matter their particular identity), to Nimishillen's CenCom dispatch center being brought into a merged countywide dispatch operation.  Many Stark County fire, police and emergency medical officials believe that countywide centralization would result in more a efficient and error free dispatch operation which, in some instances, will save lives.

Still another Gonzalez frustration was the emergence last year of Canton Mayor Healy's (and his safety director Tom Ream [who, by the way, chairs SCOG] - of course, no one in the Healy administration dare disagree with the mayor) opposition to merged dispatch including Canton UNLESS it was controlled by Canton.

In staying the course, Gonzalez deserves laudatory recognition for being the foremost Stark County official in persisting in moving Stark's 9-1-1 into consolidated status.

Other front and center prime movers for fixing emergency call receiving and dispatch are Stark Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Warstler 9-1-1 (dispatch side) and Project Manager Joe Concatto.

Times have been tough for finishing out the rehab of Stark's 9-1-1 system.  A severe recession of the American economy beginning towards the end of the Bush administration in 2008 and on into the Obama administration has likely been the culprit.

Public funding (in the form of grants) have pretty much come to a grinding halt (except, perhaps, for the radio part of the rework) which brings The Report to the reason why yours truly is taking a new look at the pace of the SCOG effort.

Last Tuesday (February 21st), the Board of Stark County Commissioners had Director Warstler and  Deputy Director Rich Weber in for a work session on the progress being made by the call receiving side of 9-1-1.  They articulated to commissioners their goal to create a sustainable model of ongoing renewal of the capital equipment (computers, phones, software upgrades and the like) which, they say,  needs to be done every 5 to 7 years.

While there are personnel costs, the major concern is generating the monies necessary to fund the several million needed to update capital equipment.  Planning is done in the first two years of the 5 to 7 year cycle whereas the actual updating mostly takes place over the remaining 3 to 5 years of the cycle, so says Director Warstler.

The short of the presentation made last Tuesday is that there are two possible barriers to Warstler and Weber being able to create that sustainable model.  They are:
  • that the Stark County 1/10th of a mill countywide levy which provides over $500,000 ($537,712 last year) a year in annual revenues expires on December 31, 2012, and 
  • that the state of Ohio wireless fund monthly assessment of 28 cents on each and every Ohio telephone bill also expires on December 31, 2012 which provided Stark County with $1,023,234 last year.
Here is a copy of Stark EMA's 2011 revenue/expense budget (remember, this is ONLY for the call receiving part of 9-1-1):

One thing for readers of this SCPR blog is to focus on is the CAPITAL OUTLAY item in the budget.  This line item specifically represents monies spent in any one year over the non-planning phase of the cycle replacing worn out equipment/software, et cetera.

For Stark County taxing purposes, the question before the Stark County commissioners between now and some time in August of this year (the filing deadline for placing issues on the Stark County ballot), is:
  • whether or not to place a renewal or a replacement (which takes advantage of in increase in the total county real property valuation) on the ballot,
  • for what millage (currently 1/10th of a mill), and
  • for a period of years or continuing indefinitely.
Moreover, Warstler will have to stay closely tuned to what the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO - currently chaired by former Stark County state Representative Todd Snitchler [R - Lake]) does in terms of increasing/reducing/maintaining the 28 cents per month, per Ohio telephone bill wireless assessment currently in place.

The SCPR's read is that it likely will remain at the 28 cents for a limited period of time based on recommendations contained in A Report by the Interim 9-1-1 Coordinator (PUCO). 

The future for 9-1-1 in Stark County?

It depends.

If Stark Countians see the wisdom of advancing incrementally towards a state of the art system by renewing or replacing the expiring levy (which in The Report's understanding might be bumped up through a combination of replacement, and/or millage enhancement) to raise another $250,000 per year to about $750,00 and the state of Ohio maintains the 28 cent a monthly telephone bill assessment, then the future is bright for not only sustaining the system but for bringing it to and keeping it at the cutting edge.

If the local levy fails or Ohio reduces its assessment significantly, then Stark County likely will go right back to where it was - in relative terms - when the GenCom report was done in 2008.

Warstler and Weber spent one and one half hours presenting to commissioners on the 21st.  Afterwards the SCPR sat down with them and what follows in a video compilation of what they had to say in amplification of their presentation to the commissioners.


At the conclusion of the meeting at which Warstler and Weber made their presentation, yours truly asked County Administrator Mike Hanke for an exact number on what remains in the Stark County general fund earmarked specifically for 9-1-1 dispatch and radio.

The answer:  $2,551,107.14.

A follow-up question obviously is:  how and when is it to be spent.

For an answer to that question the SCPR turned to Joe Concatto (a former Canton fire chief and city of Canton Creighton administration official) who is 9-1-1 Project Manager (dispatch/radio side).

In an email, here is what he had to say:

Part of the 2.5 million is planned for a countywide Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system.  The Request for Proposal and the Specification for this system is complete and we are waiting for approval from the Commissioners to go out to bid.  The systen (sic) is estimated to cost between 1.2 to 1.5 million dollars.  This system could be shared by existing dispatch centers in the same manner as the Next Generation 9-1-1 System.
Although this does not create a Countywide 9-1-1 Dispatch Center as we had planned, it is a start.  I still believe that consoldating (sic) all the dispatch centers in the county into one center is the best approach for our County. 
One major issue with sharing the CAD system is also sharing the cost for the annual maintenance and updates for this system.  These costs would have to be shared by the dispatch centers who wish to be a part of the project.  These cost could be about 12% of the cost of the sytem (sic) paid each year.  Another question is who would own the sytem. (sic)
The County Commissioners are still reviewing whether it is legal to give the 2.5 million dollars to SCOG. [Stark County Council of Governments]

Radios for emergency safety personnel in the County is still an issue. I do believe that we need one radio system in this county the same as we need one dispatch center.  However creating one dispatch center and one radio system take two different approches (sic) and one should not be contingent on the other.  With that said part of the budget created by SCOG for the 2.5 million dollars includes approximately $700,000.00 for safety forces in the county to purchase 800 MHz radios. This would be in the form of "grants" and would only represent a portion of the cost for these radios.
From Concatto's description of the current status of the 9-1-1 project, it appears to the SCPR that Stark Countians who live in jurisdictions which have not fully embraced (most notably Canton and Nimishillen Township) the notion of a true countywide 9-1-1 call receiving and dispatch should, for their own maximum safety and for that of those who travel to or through their communities,  press their political leaders to get on board the work of Warstler, Concatto, Gonzalez, the Stark County commissioners, SCOG and others.

The Report views the recalcitrant public officials and their "accountable to the public political leaders" as being irresponsible in their obligation to look out for the well-being of all Stark Countians!

On matters of emergency services, no community in Stark County is an island unto itself.

No comments: