Monday, June 18, 2012


Last Thursday 9-1-1 Stark Council of Governments (SCOG) Governance Board Chairman Randy Gonzalez called the board ("GovBoard") together for the express purpose of determining what the board wished to recommend to the Stark County commissioners as to how to spend some $2.1 million that the commissioners are holding for the rehab of the countywide 9-1-1 system.

Back in 2007/2008 a commissioned study found the system to be broken and in dire need of fixing.

In December, 2008 former Stark County commissioner Todd Bosley came up with a plan to "impose" (which fellow commissioners Tom Harmon and Jane Vignos went along with) on Stark Countians a 0.5% sales tax as a way to fund the repair of the countywide 9-1-1.

Moreover additionally in the mix was a, "let's say - a less publicized," side plan to put monies into the Stark County general fund.

The SCPR's take is that "imposed" factor coalesced with the "general fund" factor to deal an overwhelming defeat for the tax in a referendum on the tax in November, 2009.

When the tax was "imposed," Gonzalez was elated that finally, finally, his 20 year effort to bring a "state-of-the-art" countywide 9-1-1 was a reality to Stark County.

This is not to say that Gonzalez (also Jackson Township's fiscal officer, a employee of the Canton clerk of courts and chairman of the Stark County Democratic Party) was pleased with the way the funding was brought about.  Being the skilled politician he is, one has to think that he worried that the revenue would be short lived.

And, as already pointed out, it was!

However, the county did collect monies from the "imposed" tax of which the $2.1 million remains.

Since the "imposed" sales tax collection ended in mid-2010 (because of a built-in lag in collecting on/ending levies), the GovBoard through 9-1-1 Project Manager Joe Concatto has been working on five aspects of completing the "dispatch" side of fixing 9-1-1, to wit:
  • a "CAD - Computer Aided Dispatch" (i.e. software) system,
  • getting Stark County's first responders outfitted with "state-of-the-art" 800 mhz radios,
  • up-to-date consoles,
  • figuring out a way to pay for the annual upkeep on CAD to the tune of about $100,000, and
  • reserving some of the sales tax revenues to use as leverage (the local match) to qualify for state and federal grants that might be available for the CAD, radio and console aspects of upgrading the Stark 9-1-1 dispatch side of the equation.
It was this latter factor (i.e. the $100,000 annual upkeep cost) that gave Stark County Commissioner Tom Bernabei "pause for thought" as to whether or not purchasing a CAD system was a wise thing to do.

Anyone who knows Bernabei is well aware that he is a painstaking, detailed type when it comes to analyzing the costs and other factors associated with implementing local government initiatives.

He is so highly regarded in the county (except, of course, for Mayor William J. Healy, II of Canton who fired him as Canton chief-of staff back in 2008), The Report does expect that Commissioners Creighton and Ferguson will follow his lead as the commissioners move towards a final decision as what to do with the $2.1 million.

The options are, as pointed out above, the CAD software and/or 800 mhz radios and/or new consoles or any combination thereof.

The Report believes Bernabei is genuinely undecided but is leaning towards the radios.

Undoubtedly, Gonzalez and Concatto are likely tuned in on Bernabei's wavering.

It has always been the impression of the SCPR that Gonzalez and Concatto favor (as the top priority) getting the CAD system.  CAD will probably cost between $1 million and $1.3 million.

Beyond that, their likely priorities are getting as many radios as they can and setting aside money for the local match factor.

The hope is that bringing dispatchers together in two central facilities (the Stark County Sheriff's Center and the Canton Communications Center [or alternative, the RED Center] will significantly reduce the need for upgraded consoles and therefore the console factor appears to be their last priority.

But the decision on priorities in not Gonzalez's/Concatto's decision to make.

It is that of the GovBoard which is made of various fire/police/emergency force units and, of course, various representatives of Stark County's political subdivisions (township, villages, and cities).

While the SCPR believes that the GovBoard discussion was thorough, open-ended and frank, there is little doubt that the members caught the Gonzalez/Concatto drift and and that their carefully crafted advocacy resulted in their priorities being endorsed by the board.

And for yours truly's part, the Gonzalez/Cancatto priority plan appears to be the correct one.

But it remains to be seen as to whether or not Tom Bernabei will be convinced.

The SCPR understands that the GovBoard will have representation at this coming Wednesday's regular commissioner meeting to pass onto the commissioners the GovBoard's recommendation that the CAD be put out for bid as a first priority.

Here is a videotape on the GovBoard's vote on the priority:

As was pointed out in the GovBoard meeting, merely bidding out the CAD does not necessarily mean that the CAD will actually be purchased.

A concern of Concatto is that movement take place on the $2.1 million soon as a convincer (e.g. putting CAD up for bid) to the Fund for our Economic Future (Cuyahoga County) that the 9-1-1 rehab is a "go," so as to secure payment of a $100,000 EfficientGov-Now grant won by the 9-1-1 GovBoard in June, 2010.

But it still remains for them to convince Bernabei.

Another aspect to the 9-1-1 rehab is on "the call receiving side" of the countywide system.

Stark County emergency call receiving is currently "state-of-the-art."

However, two key parts of the future funding of this side of Stark's 9-1-1 includes:
  • a 28 cent per month, per cellphone user fee which is due to expire on December 31, 2012.  The fee produces about $1 million per year for Stark County 9-1-1 emergency call receiving.
  •  a Stark County 1/10th of a mill property tax levy dedicated to 9-1-1 which is set to expire at the end of this year.  The tax produces about $500,000 per year.
The 28 cent fee is a State of Ohio imposed fee as voted by the Legislature.  Accordingly, Chairman Gonzalez asked state Representative Kirk Schuring (Republican - Jackson - the 51st soon to be the 48th) to look into extending the fee beyond this year.

To track Schuring's progress, Gonzalez asked Schuring to be at Thursday's meeting and make a public presentation and take questions from the GovBoard's membership.

Schuring acquiesced and explained that he has heeded the GovBoard's call as evidenced in his amending House Bill 509.

The amendment provides for a complete review of Ohio's emergency services call receiving/dispatch system with recommendations of the review to be voted upon after November 15th of this year when the Ohio General Assembly returns to Columbus for a "lame duck" session.

Obviously representatives and state senators up for re-election this year would not want to be on record as having favored the tax increase.

While it is not known how much, if anything, the review will recommend in a continued fee, Schuring in this on camera with the SCPR appears confident that his efforts will be productive not only for the Stark County SCOG 9-1-1 GovBoard, but for 9-1-1 call/dispatch functions for all 88 Ohio counties.

As for Gonzalez's 20 years plus frustration, the SCPR asked whether or not he is optimistic that there is "light at the end of the tunnel" and, perhaps, his frustration is on its way to being ended?

Here is his video response to The Report:

The SCPR is skeptical that a complete fix of Stark County 9-1-1 will be realized.

However, it could happen.

The key?

Getting Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II on board.

The only way The Report sees that happening is Gonzalez brokering some kind of deal with Healy.

Healy being the cause of the stalemate is not good politics for him.

But will his ego allow him to do what is good for Stark County's citizens and sacrifice being the "man in charge?"


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