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Committee analyzing 911 merger

“It’s the right thing. It’s got to get done.”

That was the way Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless described the proposed plan to combine the dispatch centers for the county’s emergency service agencies.

A committee charged with finding the best way to do that met for the first time Tuesday night.

That meeting at the 911 dispatch center focused primarily on the main concerns surrounding the plan.

The idea is to combine the dispatching for the sheriff’s office, which now dispatches its own deputies as well as officers for the county’s village police departments, the 911 center that handles dispatching for fire departments, with the Ironton police, which has its own dispatch center, in an effort to save money, improve public safety and eliminate redundancy.

While the idea sounds easy in theory, the actual hurdles include working with three different unions, deciding who or what should take charge of the combined dispatch — should it be part of the sheriff’s office, a stand-alone 911 or should there be a board of directors — as well as providing training for those dispatchers who do not now have training as a law enforcement dispatcher.

“We need those dispatchers teaching the others,” 911 Director Lonnie Best said. “This could be the best thing in the world for everyone.”

Lawless pointed out his dispatchers pull double duty. In addition to dispatching, they also function as jail matrons, keep track of warrants to be served, handle visitors to the lobby and perform numerous clerical duties.

Ironton Police Chief Jim Carey agreed.

“There’s more to dispatching than just answering the phone and sending an officer,” he said.

Carey said he thought combining dispatch may save the city $30,000 a year in overtime costs plus the $800 monthly cost of having LEADS, the law enforcement computer system.

Such a move will also take money. There are costs involved with combining the services, manpower and equipment.

The nine members of the committee are Lawless, Jim Carey, Fayette Township Trustee Terry Wise, George Barnett, president of the Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department, Tom Runyon, Ironton fire chief and a member of the Lawrence County Fire Chiefs Association, Dave Wilson, representing consumers, Terry Doolin, a representative of Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services, Chesapeake Mayor Dick Gilpin and Mike Caldwell, publisher of The Tribune.

Members asked how much of the county’s half-percent sales tax, put in place years ago to fund 911 and emergency services, actually goes to 911 and where does the rest of it go.

It will also take some lengthy planning, members agreed. Carey said he thought the full merging of dispatch could take a year or two.

“We need to find out where we have common goals,” Gilpin said.

The next meeting will be 7 p.m. April 13.