On November 29, 2017, the Clark County Commissioners held their first public hearing on the Countywide 911 Dispatch Center. Commissioner Richard Lohnes began the meeting with a review of the current 911 dispatch operations. He played a 911 call, which is public record, for the crowd of about 50 Clark County Residents in which the dispatcher relays multiple messages between two emergency response agencies to communicate the EMS services needed. The call highlighted the inefficiencies of the current systems.
Currently, the county has three public safety answering points (PSAP). The City of Springfield has a PDSP that dispatches fire/EMS/police within the city limits. They also dispatch fire/EMS calls for New Carlisle. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office dispatches calls for all law enforcement for the county and fire/EMS for eight of the ten townships. The county must transfer a call for fire/EMS services for Green and Mad River Townships to a home/office location within the township. The current system is inefficient and leads to delays and threatens the safety of county residents.
In addition, none of the systems in the county are Next Generation 911 (NG-911) compliant, which means that a call from a cell phone may be directed to the wrong dispatch center, which then requires a transfer to the appropriate response team.
Under the current system, there is no awareness between the City Police and Sheriff’s deputy locations, which leads to a delay in response.
City and County leaders have recognized for years that the system needs to be updated to eliminate time delays and reduce risk to the residents of Clark County. The Clark County Commissioners have committed over the last two years to update the county system to NG-911. Lohnes said, “We expect the State of Ohio to mandate an upgrade to NG-911 very soon. Under the present system each of the three PSAP centers will have to incur the expense of the upgrade depending on whether the mandate is funded in part by the state. The cost for the upgrade is estimated to be between $2.4 and $4 million dollars. It makes sense for the county, city and townships to only pay for one upgrade and combine the services.”
Lohnes outlined three funding options for the system. The first option is to ask the residents of the county to pass a 1.5 mil levy to fund the operating costs of the center. This would generate $3.5 million for operating costs. The second option is to assess a $60 tax on all improved properties in the county. This option would generated approximately $3.2 million for operating costs. The third option is to continue with the current operation, which generates approximately $3.2 for operating systems.
The levy option would generate approximately $3.2 million in new funds. The residents of Clark County would have the opportunity to vote on the levy and the system would provide Countywide 911 services to the entire county. However, the levy could be defeated during the initial vote or at a renewal. The levy would add property taxes and businesses and farmers would bear more of the costs. In addition, depending on when the levy is placed on the ballot, it would cost taxpayers between $10,000 to $25,000 for the election.
The assessment option would also generate approximately $3.2 million in new funds. The residents would not vote on the assessment. The assessment would be the same on all properties and would result in a Countywide 911 system. However, the would increase taxes.
In the third option in which for the townships contract with the Sheriff’s Department for services, the funds already exist. However, the City of Springfield would not participate, contracts would have to renegotiated each year and the resulting system would not be a Countywide 911 system.
Once Lohnes explained the options, he opened the floor for public discussion. Resident Dan Harkinson opened the session. He said, “The 911 Services should be merged. However, the merger can and should occur without additional taxes.” He pointed out that the county should fund the system because 911 taxes are already collected by the state and given to the county. He also said that the tax is a regressive tax with lower income families bearing a high percent of their income to pay the tax. He also mentioned that the county can afford the to bear the cost as they currently have approximately $13 million in excess funds. County Administrator Jennifer Hutchinson pointed out that most of the funds are not available for general fund operations.
City Commissioner Elect David Estrop spoke in favor of the Combined 911 System. He noted that in a performance audit, the auditor recommended a combined 911 center for the county to keep residents safe and secure. Estrop commended the County Commissioners for pursuing the Combined System. He also added that the residents cannot have the services for free.
Resident Mary Calvin asked what would happen to the funds that the townships and city are already collected for EMS services. Lohnes explained that the money they are collecting will stay in the townships and cities general funds depending on how the levies are written. However, the other entities will now have these funds available to provide additional services including road repair and other public safety concerns.
Clark County Treasurer Stephen Metzger said, “I’m not oppose to the Combined 911 System; however, I object to the $60 assessment. It is unfair. It would be a windfall for business and farmers and places a large burden on individual residents.” He pointed out that placing a levy on the ballot for the public to decide is a more equitable means of funding the service. He said, “If you are doing your job, the public will support it.”
County Auditor John Federer added, “I feel the Combined 911 Service is important to have. I don’t think anyone in the county thinks it is a bad idea. Is there a way to accomplish this goal without an assessment? It will be a burden to my department to send tax bills to the churches and charities who currently do not pay taxes.
Additional residents agreed, most saw the need for the combined system; however, many objected to the assessment of additional taxes for residents already paying a lot. Most suggested that the combined system should be paid from the funds already collected and used by each of the townships and cities to pay for the current services.
The Commissioners will host an addition public hearing on the Countywide 911 Services at 10:00 a.m. on December 6, 2017. After the second hearing, the commissioners will have 30 days to decide on the proposed assessment.