BOWLING GREEN -- Despite some reservations and plenty of questions, city and township officials from across Wood County agreed Thursday to continue exploring the idea of centralized dispatching services for the county.
All agreed they'd love to save money by working together, but they know that giving up their own dispatchers for police, fire, and emergency medical service would require a lot of work and time as well as a change in the way things are done.
"I think citizens are pushing regionalization -- I hear a lot of comments about that -- but I think the citizens are going to have to realize they may have a reduction in service when they go to that," Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans said, adding, "I think citizens are going to have to drive this. If they insist on it and they tell the leadership this is what we need to do, then I think that's what we need to do."
North Baltimore Police Chief Allan Baer said residents in his southern Wood County village are accustomed to finding a dispatcher at the police station night and day. About 40 percent of the 4,200 calls police respond to every year are reported by people walking into the police station. "How does that work with centralized dispatch?" Chief Baer asked.
He said his dispatchers don't just take calls, they also conduct background checks, file reports, and perform other clerical duties in addition to staffing the front desk.
"My citizens want to come in and talk to somebody," he said. "They don't want to grab the red 'bat phone.' "
Wood County commissioners called the meeting to see if there was interest in seeing whether dispatch services could be provided effectively through a central source and whether that could result in reduced costs for personnel, equipment, training, and office space.
Officials from Bowling Green State University and Owens Community College joined those from Bowling Green, Perrysburg, Rossford, Northwood, Lake Township, Perrysburg Township, North Baltimore, and the Wood County Sheriff's Office.
Commissioner Jim Carter said some people might wonder why the board didn't broach this topic before.
"There's two times to talk about dispatching -- today or 10 years ago," Mr. Carter said.
"Well, 10 years ago is gone. Today is the day we've got to start talking about it."
In northern Wood County, Northwood, Rossford, Lake Township, and Walbridge have been exploring a regional police and fire dispatch service for the past three years.
This summer they were awarded an $87,840 grant from the Ohio Department of Development to study and come up with a recommendation for a central dispatch center.
Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer said that despite the progress they've made, he's open to discussing it on a broader basis.
"Regionalization will not only save us money, which is important, when we have a big issue in our county, maybe like a tornado or something like that, communication is key," he said. "If we were all operated out of one system with one group of dispatchers, one radio system where we can all communicate with each other on day-to-day things, it will certainly serve us well in major disasters."
He said there are numerous issues to consider beyond just saving money, though. Chief Hummer said agencies that come together for dispatch would need to have the same records and computer-aided dispatch systems, to communicate on the same radio frequency, and, perhaps most important, put into place standard procedures for all law enforcement and fire departments.
"We'd all have to do it the same way or we would have dispatchers jumping out the window, going crazy, trying to [think] 'Oh this is Rossford, I have to do this. This is North Baltimore. I have to do this,' " he said.
Chief Baer said the current collaborative project in northern Wood County might provide a "wonderful test case" to see if regionalization of dispatch services on a larger scale could work.
The group agreed to get together again in January for a progress report.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.