Casino money might help pay for combined dispatch

Springfield, Clark County leaders say agreement more likely.Shared 911 operation could save money, improve safety.

By the numbers

$2.7 million: Combined cost for Clark County and Springfield to run separate dispatch centers this year.

147,000: Combined number of calls received by Clark County and Springfield dispatch centers annually.

$1.1 million: Estimated amount of funds Clark County has received from statewide casino revenue.

Committed coverage

The Springfield News-Sun first reported about new negotiations for a combined dispatch center earlier this year and is committed to following the story as the talks continue.

Casino money could be used to help to fund the creation of a countywide dispatch center for emergency responders in Clark County, according to local leaders.

County and city officials continue to iron out details of a council of governments, which would give equal voting rights to cities, townships and villages associated with the dispatch center.

Currently, the city and county spend a combined $2.7 million — $1.5 million by the city and $1.2 million by the county — to run separate dispatch centers that employ 40 full-time and five part-time employees total.

Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said he hopes to use casino money to help with start-up costs for the combined dispatch center, which leaders believe could increase safety and reduce costs.

The county has received approximately $1.1 million in casino revenue this year, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. They’ll receive another payment in October, according to Clark County Administrator Nathan Kennedy. The last three payments have ranged from about $318,000 to $428,000.

Lohnes said it is “confusing” if counties can directly share casino revenue with townships and cities, all of whom have asked for a share of the funds. He believes the council of governments can share casino funds for upfront costs for the dispatch center, then determine how much the townships would need to provide for the project.

“Everyone would save something through the use of the casino money,” Lohnes said.

Lohnes said he’ll need at least one more vote from commissioners on how to use the casino money, but that step will wait until the council of governments agreement and bylaws are on paper.

“They need to see that before they make a decision,” Lohnes said.

Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said the city and other local government entities hoped the county would share revenue from the casinos. He believes this is a “very creative” way of sharing the funds.

“It’s a way which helps all the citizens of the county,” Copeland said.

Lohnes wouldn’t estimate how much casino money could be spent on the combined dispatch center.

After lawyers review the paperwork, Lohnes said they’ll have another meeting to iron out even more details. They’d like to have the paperwork signed by the end of the year, Lohnes said.

“We know it’s the right thing to do,” Lohnes said of a combined dispatch center. “We’ve got to make it work.”

Copeland said the city has hoped to create a combined dispatch center for 10 years. He believes they’re close to making it a reality through partnerships with the county, townships and villages.

“I think we’re really close,” Copeland said. “It’s been very cooperative so far. I think there’s a really good chance we’re going to get it done.”

Clark County has 16 full-time staffers and five part-timers with a personnel budget of $1.2 million per year in its dispatch center. Springfield has 24 full-time staff members with a yearly budget of $1.5 million in its.

Springfield receives approximately 74,000 calls per year, while Clark County handles approximately 73,000 calls per year.

Copeland said the combined dispatch center will help improve safety because 911 calls will be answered faster. Dispatching can be confusing in certain areas of the county, and depends on where the calls come in and the type of phone used for the emergency call.

“For all of us, it’ll be step forward in terms of safety,” Copeland said. “There’s also a reasonable expectation it could save some money as well. I think it’s a win-win.”

Six townships, including Bethel, Harmony, Madison, Moorefield, Pleasant and Springfield Township, contract with the Sheriff’s office to provide dispatching services.

German and Pike each have their own dispatchers, while Mad River and Enon also have their own dispatchers who provide services for Green Twp.

Lohnes said German, Green, Pike and Mad River townships are still deciding whether to participate in the new operation.

“I’m optimistic that they will,” Lohnes said.

Leaders are still deciding how to charge for services. They could move to a per-call model, rather than per-capita model, which is currently being used by the Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s a lot of issues to work out,” Lohnes said.

The county spent $10,000 to hire Mission Critical Partners, a consulting firm from Pennsylvania, to help with the consolidation. The company specializes in public safety consolidation and shared services for local governments in states throughout the region.

“We’ll get as much done as possible, then bring the experts back for the heavy lifting,” Lohnes said.

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