Village Council— ‘Local dispatch worth cost’
- Published: April 25, 2013
Forty-five villagers gathered in Village Council chambers Monday night, many there to talk about their strong desire to maintain a local dispatch service at the Yellow Springs Police Department. A dozen people spoke, including long-time police officer Al Pierce, who talked about the value of the personal and called the village’s two full-time and five part-time dispatchers the “magnificent seven,” who hold the department together. He urged Council members to take more time to weigh the needs.
“I believe our manager and chief want to do good, but you can’t change an institution in three months,” Pierce said, referring to the August deadline by which consolidation was supposed to take place in order to save the Village money. “If it does’t impact us [budget-wise] until 2015, what does Aug. 1 got to do with it?”
Village Council has been considering the option to consolidate its dispatch service to a central location in Xenia since Village Manager Laura Curliss recommended last month that such a move could save the Village money and provide more high-tech service. After an hour-long public discussion, Council members agreed they needed more time to consider what they had learned before making a decision. Xenia Police Department, which is also negotiating to consolidate dispatch for Sugarcreek and Bellbrook communities, would like to know by May whether they will serve Yellow Springs as well, according to Xenia Police Chief Randy Person at the meeting. Council will take up the discussion again at its meetings in May.
At Monday’s Council meeting, Yellow Springs Police Chief Tony Pettiford, who was hired in November and has been on leave for the past month due to a work-related injury, recommended that centralizing dispatch was the way to “get more for less” money. Miami Township Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Altman also endorsed the reliable and sophisticated service of the Xenia dispatch crew, who handle all of the local squad’s 911 calls, averaging 1,100 local calls per year. The main advantage he sees is that Xenia has a crew of dispatchers who can work together to simultaneously dispatch a multi-agency response in the case of a bigger emergency.
“We know our [Xenia] dispatchers very well, and they care — they care about us in the field,” Altman said.
And though a group of citizens presented a petition with just under 700 signatures supporting local dispatch, some Council members said that the Village urgently needs to find ways to cut costs in order to maintain overall affordability for citizens. According to recent budget figures, the Village general fund, 50 percent of which supports the police department, is expected to reach negative numbers by 2015. At the same meeting, Council also discussed another urgent problem of upgrading the Village water plant, which is in grave need of repair or replacement after several decades of deferred maintenance.
“We cannot continue to provide the level of services we’re providing and not raise taxes,” Council member Karen Wintrow said. “We need to be cognizant that there is a cost of living issue in Yellow Springs.”
But the villagers who spoke at the meeting were not convinced that the potential savings were worth the loss of personalized service and security a team of local dispatchers who know the village provide. Scott Stolsenberg said he and his family moved to the village knowing the taxes were high but believing the cost was worth the services villagers enjoy in return. Carol Cobb voiced concern about what she called a sudden rash of recommendations to “outsource” Village services, including dispatch, Village water (which the Village is considering buying from Springfield), and Village pool (which the Village recently contracted through a private national pool management company).
“It alarms me because it’s not the Yellow Springs way,” Cobb said. “It’s good to save money, but money is not everything.”
Officer Pierce pointed out that both Curliss and Pettiford, who recommended Xenia dispatch, lack a truly local knowledge of what the dispatch does and why their role is so important. Long-time resident Jim Bailey expressed doubt that the important role of citizens as helpers to police was going to continue with a remote dispatch.
Chrissy Cruz raised the additional concern that if Yellow Springs consolidated dispatch with Xenia this year, would there later be pressure to further consolidate to an even more remote location?
Since 1989 all 911 calls from within the village have been handled through Xenia’s central dispatch, according to an overview that Xenia Chief Person and Curliss gave during the meeting. If Yellow Springs centralized, all calls (including the police department number 767-7206) would go to Xenia, whose crew would continue to dispatch Yellow Springs officers to calls in the village. The police department would no longer maintain a public window, but Chief Pettiford would maintain an office with an assistant to handle calls and concerns from the public during the weekdays.
According to Pettiford, if the department switched to central dispatch in August, the Village would save $78,000 for the remainder of the year, a calculation that includes the hiring of a daytime administrative assistant to the chief at an annual cost of $55,000. After that, the Village could expect to save about $200,000 per year.
The police department also plans to continue to increase police officer personnel in order to fulfill the goal of having two officers on duty at all times. While local dispatchers currently provide support to officers on duty alone, department policy is to avoid bringing combative or uncooperative suspects into the local department but instead take them directly to Greene County detention.
In other Village Council business:
• A group of neighbors and supporters urged Council to uphold a past commitment to preserve the eastern third of the Glass Farm off King Street for conservation purposes. The group presented a petition with 25 signatures calling for the Village to include the preservation in its Village Zoning Code revision, expected to be complete some time this year.
Neighbors Bettina Stolsenberg, Steve Green and Tom Deitrich spoke during the Council meeting in favor of a preservation effort on the eastern 13 acres of the farm.
• Council had a lengthy discussion about the deteriorating Village water plant and the possibility of purchasing water from Springfield. Council approved a motion that Village engineering consultant John Eastman complete a cost analysis of renovating the existing water treatment plant. The study, estimated to cost $15,000, is to include an estimate on how much time Council has to make the decision before the plant breaks down. Council will return to the issue at a meeting in May. See this week’s water article on page 1 for the details of the water discussion.
• Council approved Susanne Oldham, Patrick O’Reilly, Jon Hudson, Nevin Mercede and Matt Housh as new members of the Village Arts Commission. Council also approved Brett Henderson as the fifth member of the Village Energy Board; Cheryl Smith to the Human Relations Commission; and Becky Eschliman and Richard Zopf to the Library commission.
• Council met in executive session to discuss personnel matters and pending litigation.