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Sheriff looks to tap 911 wireless funds to pay for additional dispatchers

By Carol McIntire

The flipside of Carroll County being recognized as the hub of the oil and gas boom in Ohio is starting to show up in county government.

The number of calls handled by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department during the first four months of 2013 has more than doubled over the same period last year, but with no funds to provide additional staff.

Carroll County Commissioner Bob Wirkner addressed the situation during a commissioners meeting last week.

“For the period of Jan. 1, 2012, through April 10, 2012, the dispatch center received 24,840 calls,” he said. “During that same period in 2013, they received 49,890 calls. That’s over a 100 percent increase. The number of 911 calls also increased, but many of the calls on the 330-627-2141 line were also emergency calls. Our dispatchers need some relief. They are one step away from being overwhelmed.”

Wirkner noted county government has not seen much of an increase in funding to help pay for the additional workload put on county services.

To help alleviate the situation, Wirkner said the Sheriff is seeking to hire two additional dispatchers – one for day shift and one for afternoon shift and for funds to train them.

“With the approval of this board (commissioners) we would like to ask permission from the Ohio Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) to use a portion of the 911 wireless money the county receives each year to pay for training and salaries for the dispatchers,” Wirkner said.

As a result of legislation passed by the Ohio General Assembly continuing the tax on wireless phone users for an indefinite period of time, the county receives $90,000 per year as long as they maintain a 911 dispatch center. The money is specifically designated for 911 equipment and maintenance.

Sheriff Dale Williams is proposing using up to $84,000 of that money each year for dispatch services, but approval must be granted by OCJS.

“All we are doing at this stage is asking,” Wirkner noted. “They might say no or they might say we can’t use that much. They will tell us what we can and can’t do.”

Wirkner said the 911 wireless account has a balance of $364,275.98, but that money must also be used to purchase what is called the “Next Generation 911 equipment” when it becomes available.

“We don’t even know how much the equipment is going to cost or, if we will even have a 911 dispatch center at that time,” Wirkner said referring to a plan by the state to consolidate and reduce the number of 911 centers.

“We are being very proactive and doing everything we can to maintain our 911 dispatch center,” he said.

If the county’s 911 center is consolidated and moved to another county, the county will lose it’s 911 wireless funding.

Commissioner Tom Wheaton questioned the need for the additional funding.

“We gave the sheriff 100 percent of what he asked us for in his 2013 budget,” Wheaton said. “He agreed when we made his budget request whole, he would live within it and not come to us for more money. He has already asked us for money for an additional traffic deputy and I saw an ad to hire two people in the jail. Who is going to have control of the money? I don’t want that 911 money to be used up just because it’s there.”

In 2013, commissioners appropriated the sheriff’s department $1.57 million from the general fund, an increase of $204,899 from the previous year.

Wheaton and Wirkner both noted the yearly fee for the Reverse 911 system is due. Wirkner said he believes the fee is about $16,000 and was due May 6. He noted the fee was paid by the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) in 2012, but funds are not available to do so this year.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find that money,” Wheaton said adding he wasn’t sure if commissioners included funds to cover the cost in the sheriff’s 2013 budge.

Wirkner noted a request was sent to OCJS to use 911 wireless funds to pay the bill, but was denied.

Wheaton asked which fund the money is deposited into that is generated by increasing the village’s cost for dispatching services.

“We told them when we increased the dispatch fee, it was because of the increase in calls for the village and we were going to add another dispatcher with the money we received. “Where does it go?” he asked.

Commissioner Jeff Ohler said the money goes into the general fund.

The county’s 911 landline phone fund is also used to pay dispatchers’ salaries. Wirkner noted that fund has been decreasing since a large portion of county residents are doing away with landlines and using cell phones.

An employee of the Carroll County Auditor’s office said in 2012, the fund generated $50,900.47. As of April 30, 2013, $3,494.21 had been deposited into the fund for 2013. As of May 6, the account had a negative balance of $1,377.61. 

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