By GLORIA PLEVA KACIK
Legislation was introduced at the January 21 City Council meeting that would approve an agreement with the city of North Royalton and the city of Strongsville that would, in effect, consolidate the two cities’ safety dispatch services. The agreement is in response to a 2012 mandate from the state of Ohio to pare down the Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) by 2018. Cuyahoga County, by far, has the most PSAPs in the state.
Ohio Law as passed by Substitute House Bill 360 mandates that the 45 dispatch centers, supporting 54 jurisdictions, located in Cuyahoga County be downsized to 4, with one center being the city of Cleveland, by 2018. Only four counties in the 88 counties in Ohio have more than 10 PSAPs. The plan to consolidate, coupled with the upcoming Emergency Services Internet Protocol and the upcoming Next Generation 911 system is expected to not only provide better service to residents, but increase efficiency and save on costs. Those municipalities that do not participate in consolidation will be penalized through the loss of wireless 911 revenue. The proposed agreement is expected to take effect on March 17, when the 911 calls from North Royalton would ultimately be sent to the Strongsville dispatch center, which is currently located on Royalton Road in Strongsville. The city would pay Strongsville $40,000 per month, totaling $480,000 for the first year. Currently, the city cost is about $660,000, according to Mayor Bob Stefanik.
All 911 calls go to the Communication Electronic Command (CECOM) center, which then directs the calls to the appropriate jurisdiction. In that, North Royalton residents will see no change. One change they may see, depending on the call, is that the dispatcher would be trained as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) which allows them to give the caller medical instructions while they wait for emergency services to arrive. “This provides a whole new level of service to residents,” said North Royalton Police Chief John Elek. North Royalton currently has on staff, eight full time dispatchers and three part time dispatchers. They were given notice of the agreement on Friday, January 17. Although consolidation of services was known and discussed in the past, many have been surprised that it is happening so quickly. The North Royalton dispatchers have served in their positions from ten to 24 years, according to Elek. “They have been loyal employees for many years and we recognize that,” said Stefanik, “but we have a mandate under House Bill 360.” Safety Director Bruce Campbell said that there will be up to nine part time positions available, as part of the duties of the current dispatch involve jail duties, including surveillance. Also, applications already have been given to the dispatchers to apply for a dispatch position in Strongsville. Part of the agreement included giving the North Royalton dispatchers preference. “It’s tough when you have to let people go,” said Stefanik. “We are doing everything we can to help them with the transition.” Stefanik said that the city is currently meeting with the union regarding this transition.
Currently there are 12 dispatchers in Strongsville. At this time, it is not known how many will be added to the Strongsville complement. According to a report issued by the Cuyahoga County 911 Planning Committee, Strongsville, with a 2012 population of 44,750, had a total of 9,994 911 calls that year. North Royalton, with a 2012 population of 30,444, had a total of 4,392 calls. Stefanik said that with the combination of both cities’ dispatch, there will always be more dispatchers in one place to take the incoming 911 calls. He referenced an apartment fire that took place several years ago. At that time, there was only one dispatcher on duty in North Royalton, who was inundated with calls. He said that the new setup will be better at handling of incidents, such as that. He also noted that with the new setup, dispatchers will be assigned to the North Royalton area, so they will be familiar with the locality. Elek said that this agreement came about after the city had gone through several studies through the past few years regarding consolidation. Stefanik said that studies were done with both Southwest General and Parma Hospital, Broadview Heights and Cuyahoga County, but nothing came of it. The latest study, done by Cleveland State University, involved both North Royalton and Strongsville. Discussion began between the two cities and the agreement was forged. “We looked at it from a proactive manner,” said Stefanik. “This is a first class city and we will be able to provide a better level of service at a lower cost, while working with the dictates of House Bill 360.” Stefanik noted that by making the change now, the city will be removed from a position where they may be forced to be placed with another city. “We’ve made this decision.” The agreement would create a joint advisory board, that consists of the Police Chiefs and Fire Chiefs from both cities. The board would review proposed changes and cost adjustments in the future. The ordinance has been placed on first reading.