Communities will not lose 911 dispatching in consolidation

LISBON -Columbiana County Commissioner Tim Weigle said none of the communities would lose their dispatching service if the county 911 system is consolidated to a single call-answering facility.

Weigle sought to clarify statements he made at last week’s 911 advisory committee about how they needed to begin explore consolidating call-answering centers, known as public service answering points (PSAPs), as a way to save money.

“I think when people read the article they were under the misunderstanding that we want to take away their dispatching service. That’s not the case,” he said. “We’re only talking about 911 services.”

Under the county system, 911 calls are routed to the county sheriff’s office or the Salem, East Liverpool, Columbiana and East Palestine police departments, which serve as PSAPs. Each department continues to be responsible for paying the salaries and benefits of their dispatchers, while 911 funds are used to purchase 911 equipment, make system upgrades and cover maintenance agreements for the PSAPs.

Weigle believes the day is coming when the cost of maintaining the five PSAPs will exceed the money generated by the monthly tax charged for landline and cell phone service, which are sole sources of 911 funding. The two funds currently have a combined balance of $1.72 million, but Weigle is expecting that to drop to $544,000 within four years, as the number of land lines continues to decline and cell-phone revenue levels off.

While the original plan to divide 911 calls among five PSAPs was believed to be cheaper, Weigle said that may no longer be the case given declining revenue and rising cost associated with maintaining multiple PSAPs. He believes the committee should investigate the feasibility of routing all 911 calls to a single PSAP, presumably at the sheriff’s office.

But even if that were to occur, each police department would continue to retain its dispatching services, and this is where Weigle believes the misunderstanding has occurred. Instead, 911 calls would go to a single PSAP, which would transfer the call to the appropriate police or fire department dispatcher.

“No one would lose their dispatching service, but as far as 911 is concerned there may be less expensive ways to do this than having five PSAPs,” he said, noting that every expense is multiplied by five when you upgrade 911 equipment or contract for maintenance agreements.

The original 911 plan was approved with the support of Salem, East Liverpool, Columbiana and East Palestine only after the leaders in those communities insisted their police departments serve as PSAPs, and any changes would presumably require the same support of communities representing the majority of residents,

Weigle’s comments drew the attention of several of the PSAP communities, and he met with East Palestine officials earlier in the week after being asked to do so. He said East Palestine officials worried about the delay that might result from transferring 911 calls, “if we should consolidate. So they’re concerned and want to keep their PSAP.”

East Liverpool officials also expressed similar concerns at last week’s city council meeting, and Weigle said he may meet with them. East Liverpool and Salem were the only communities with PSAPs that did not have a representative at the 911 meeting.

Weigle said the state is moving toward consolidating 911 systems, especially those counties with multiple PSAPs, and are encouraging counties to merge. He said neighboring Jefferson and Mahoning counties have single PSAP 911 systems.

“I’m just trying to get the discussion going and make them aware if we continue with five PSAPs … The math tells me we’re going to run out of money,” he said.