Tuesday, March 20, 2012


It is becoming clearer and clearer to the SCPR that Stark County's attempt to rebuild 9-1-1 from being on life support according to a 2008 GenCom report, is now in jeopardy.

The Report attended a meeting of the Stark County Council of Governments [Governing Board] (SCOG) meeting of March 15th and comes away with the impression that rebuild effort is falling apart.

Until the 15th, the board had not met for some months.

Rehabbing Stark's emergency call receiving and dispatching system started out being troubled.

The Report believes it continues in that mode and it is appearing more and more that a fully state-of-the-art system that encompasses all of Stark County as originally envisioned will never be realized.

So what are the problems with getting 9-1-1 to where the shakers and movers of Stark County government leadership say they want to take it?

The funding problem.

At great political cost to himself, former Stark County Commissioner Todd Bosley persuaded his fellow commissioners to impose a 0.5% sales tax in December, 2008 which collected the necessary money to get the project underway.  However, Stark voters reacted to having the tax "imposed" by repealing it in November, 2009 which had the effect of limiting the original goal of the 9-1-1 portion of the tax (the remainder being for the county general fund) of providing the service "free" to Stark County's political subdivision.

A lingering problem continues to be?  Yes, you have it funding.

Although some $2.51 million remains set aside by county commissioners to be spent on the capital side putting together countywide 9-1-1, there is not enough of it.

Not enough of it because not all of the political subdivisons which would make up a countywide system have state-of-the-art radios (800 mhz).  So officials are scrambling to get federal grants to supplement some money available from the $2.51 million in order to get everyone equipped with appropriate communications gear.

North Canton has broken ranks with a Stark County's 800 mhz radio plan by signing up with the state of Ohio MARCS system.

Another aspect of funding revolves around the question of maintaining the system.

Since a continuing dedicated sales tax for maintaining 9-1-1 is gone, how will - assuming that a true countywide system is put in place - it be maintained from a continuing financial operations standpoint?

The apparent answer is user fees.

However, it seems that Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II does not believe such is a proper and, perhaps, realistic financial structure for maintaining Stark's 9-1-1 system. And, apparently, he worries that the entity itself (Stark County Council of Governments - SCOG) which would own and operate the system, with 2012-13 severe cuts in state of Ohio local government funding, will have it own financial problems in terms of its own survival.

As things stand now, SCOG is struggling to fund, going into 2013 and beyond, the Stark County crime lab.

The word is that the state of Ohio may totally eliminate local government funding going forward.

The Report uses the terms "seems" and "apparently" in discussing Healy's position because it is unclear to yours truly that financial viability concerns are his "real" concern.

Yours truly is more apt to believe that it is more an issue of ultimate Canton control of countywide 9-1-1 (i.e. a turf problem) for Healy than his suggestions of financial integrity concerns.

Beyond funding concerns, then there is a communications problem between Healy and his safety director Tom Ream (who is president of SCOG) and SCOG governing board Chairman Randy Gonzalez and Project Manager Joe Concatto.

It is really weird that Healy, Ream, Gonzalez and Concatto, who undoubtedly cross one another's paths in multiple forums on a regular basis, just shake their heads in a "I don't know" fashion when asked why they cannot get together and resolve the differences they have and moving forward with rehabbing countywide 9-1-1 with Canton being a key player.

Communications on this topic are so nonexistent that  Gonzalez and Concatto with the apparent acquiescence of the Stark County commissioners (Commissioner Tom Bernabei is the lead commissioner on the 9-1-1 project) no longer talk optimistically that Canton will be part of a countywide system.  Rather that it will be narrowed to include the RED Center (mainly Jackson Township and Massillon) and the Stark County sheriff and a few other political subdivisions.

Even the sheriff's participation is problematical (Sheriff Swanson has been back and forth on the issue) and a "real" answer awaits the outcome of November's election to determine who - among Republican candidate Larry Dordea and Democratic candidate Mike McDonald (currently a chief deputy in charge of the jail division) - will succeed Sheriff Tim Swanson.

Anyone who knows anything about the 9-1-1 consolidation project knows already that Nimishillen Township's CenCom will not be part of a countywide system.

The SCPR has written frequently that The Report believes that Nimishillen opted out for two reasons.

First, Nimishillen Fire Chief Rich Peterson was not chosen to be the project manager for the rehab and his pride and joy CenCom will not be the hub of a countywide system.  Another manifestation of a turf problem?

Second, Nimishillen is so saddled with debt for the fire station that houses CenCom that in order to generate revenue to pay the mortgage, its only choice is to compete with a countywide system.

Today, there is a media report that North Canton is considering joining up with CenCom.  Recently, Lake Township signed on.

Canton, North Canton, Lake et cetera not in a countywide system.   Does it make any sense to proceed with spending the remaining $2.51 million being held by county commissioners on a fragmented (countywide?) 9-1-1 system?

During 2012 county budget considerations, the Stark County Common Pleas Court judges proposed "lending" the $2.51 to 2012 appropriations.

Perhaps the time has come for the commissioners to square up with the realities of:
  • financial problems,
  • communication problems,
  • and turf wars,
that plague the effort to get to a true "state of the art" countywide 9-1-1 system and defund it entirely?

Stark County general fund operations sure could use that $2.51 million, no?

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