BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — The Lucas County 911 consolidation system is scheduled to be up and running on Friday, October 1.
The plan calls for six separate 911 call centers to merge into one centralized 911 call center for the purpose of serving 21 local communities. In addition to Maumee, the other Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) or dispatch centers being streamlined into the new county system are the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon, Sylvania, Sylvania Town-ship and Toledo.
Greater efficiency and lower cost have been touted as the main reasons for switching to a consolidated answering system. The Regional Council of Governments (RCOG), which is the governing body overseeing the new system, will convene on Tuesday, September 14 to approve the 2022 budget, which is projected to cost $13.65 million. Following that meeting, the board of directors will meet for final budget approval.
RCOG executive director Stacey Mitchell has met separately with officials from participating communities to review costs and answer questions.
“When it comes to the budget, we are predicting what we think it will be based on what we know,” she said. “I don’t feel like we could be any more transparent.”
On August 15, the city of Maumee received an invoice for $145,330.12 to pay for the last quarter of the year, which covers October, November and December of 2021. For 15 communities that have not been paying for the service, Lucas County will cover their share in 2021 while a phased-in payment plan for those communities begins in 2022.
Communities including Maumee will be asked to pay for 2022 in December; however, those invoices are still being finalized, Mitchell said.
Maumee dispatchers will become employees of RCOG on October 1, but through an employee phase-in plan, they will remain in Maumee until Tuesday, November 2. Seven out of eight dispatchers from Maumee have decided to remain on the job under the new plan.
Maumee Police Chief Josh Sprow is working to address gaps in call service locally. He plans to establish a call center service for after-hours and non-emergency calls in Maumee, such as water main breaks, utility problems, pet issues, parking questions and more, which previously would have rolled into the dispatch center.
When the consolidation plan was first proposed several years ago, many community members joined local officers and elected officials to voice opposition to the proposal. In spite of those objections, the plan moved forward.
Sprow said that although dispatching services may be different, the level of service to residents will not be.
“I don’t anticipate any delays in the process that will be noticeable,” Sprow said.
If police or fire is needed to respond, they will, he added.
“The system will work. I am confident that if someone calls 911 for a medical emergency or a crime, the call will get answered,” he said.
He is not convinced, however, that the new system will save Maumee money. Sprow believes that some actual costs will be higher when all is said and done.
“I was concerned all along that the projected savings were not going to be as much, but I believe that the overall emergency 911 function will be fine,” he said.
Maumee Mayor Richard Carr has also raised concerns about the projected budget, and he plans to meet with other mayors to discuss it. According to Carr, a 2019 feasibility study indicated that the system would cost $10.1 million to operate, which is $3.4 million less than the 2022 budgeted amount.
“We saw this coming,” Carr said. “But they should not be that far off in the numbers – it’s gross negligence at best and fraudulent at worst.”
Carr said that with additional expenses incurred by adding a call center, Maumee would likely pay more with the new system.
Matt Hyerman, director of public safety for the Board of Lucas County Commissioners, crafted the 2019 feasibility study and said that data is based on 2018 numbers with no added variables. The study illustrates that costs will be less with the consolidated system for communities that house dispatch centers, like Maumee. In addition, the $10.1 million amount questioned by Carr is the projected budget in 2024, when the system is running at greatest efficiency, he said.
“There’s no way Maumee will pay more for 911 service under the consolidation plan because it is more efficient,” Hyerman said.