EP?fears for 911

EAST PALESTINE – Don’t take 911 dispatching away from the village. That is the message from East Palestine officials.

At this week’s meeting, Councilman Alan Cohen said he spoke with Police Chief Kevin Dickey about the 911 consolidation being floated by one Columbiana County commissioner, and they want to see it remain local.

“The county commissioners are in effect trying to centralize the 911 system and they want to defund or take away a lot of the power East Palestine has to dispatch itself,” Cohen said.

Commissioner Tim Weigle made the suggestion at this month’s 911 advisory committee meeting to consolidate 911 calls to a single facility as a way to save money because he believes they will begin operating at a deficit under the current arrangement in five years.

Under the current county system 911 calls are routed to the county sheriff’s office, the East Palestine, Salem, Columbiana and East Liverpool departments.

The departments are 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 departments.

Funding for 911 comes from a monthly tax charged for land line and cell phone service and according to previous reports Weigle believes that funding will decline in the coming years as fewer people are using land line phones and cell phone revenue is waning.

“Their perception is it cost too much money to maintain (separate dispatching facilities),” Cohen said of the commissioners. “I support keeping it here. We don’t want the dispatch facility to be in Lisbon.”

Consolidation would only apply to receiving 911 calls, with those calls automatically transferred to the appropriate police or fire department. Those departments would still retain their dispatchers to handle calls, which is how 911 systems work in many other areas across the state and nation. This was all pointed out in a Morning Journal story published on Nov. 10.

Dickey said it is important the department continues to have authority to handle the calls.

“That way we can maintain control of everything. We have our services here and everything is working fine. We’ll just have to watch it as it progresses and go from there,” he said.

He added he and Village Manager Pete Monteleone have already voiced their concerns to state Rep. Nick Barborak, D-Lisbon. Monteleone said he and Dickey have also shared their concerns with Weigle.

“Right now there are limitations on what they can use that cell phone money for,” Monteleone said, adding the village is working to see if those limitations can be broadened to supplement the decline in landline revenue.

That would have to be done on a state level with the help of Barborak, Dickey said later.

“Right now there are limitations on what they can use that cell phone money for,” Monteleone said, adding the village is working to broaden those limitations so the funding can be used to supplement the decline in land line revenue.

He also said the village had basic 911 capability prior to the county’s involvement, but it did not always allow dispatchers to automatically know who was calling and from where.

“We’ve always had 911 capability in East Palestine, which is why we kept a base here and it’s important,” he said.

Councilwoman Endia Wisser asked how the consolidation would affect the timeliness of emergency response, since each 911 call would have to be transferred to the appropriate police or fire department dispatcher once it was received by the central facility.

Cohen and others on council indicated it could have a negative effect.

“So we’re just killing time if there is an emergency,” Wisser said.

Cohen stressed the consolidation is only an idea right now, but advised council members to keep an eye on it.

Discussion then turned to whether the village has a disaster response plan.

Councilman Don Elzer said he has lived in town for six years and is not aware of any plan.

Fire Chief Brett Todd said the county has an all-encompassing plan.

“I can’t see the need to rewrite all they’ve done. The plan is there,” he said.

Elzer countered he doesn’t know the details of that plan, and most likely other residents aren’t aware either.

“If a tornado hit here today, how does the public know what to do?” he asked.

Cohen agreed.

“A plan means I know where to go,” he said.

Monteleone said details of the plan could be put on the village’s website ,www.eastpalestine-oh.gov.