Dispatch merger starts with a definition

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 1, 2010

For something that almost everyone says has to happen, consolidating emergency dispatching remains a difficult and complex proposition.

The committee formed to make a recommendation about this project has met a half dozen times and continues to make progress.

Just as a refresher — and because I think everyone serving on this volunteer board truly welcomes feedback — here is the list of members.

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The nine members of the committee are: Sheriff Jeff Lawless, Ironton Police Chief 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; Jim Sites, representing the public; Terry Dolin, a representative of Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services; Chesapeake Mayor Dick Gilpin and myself.

Lonnie Best, 911 director, isn’t on the board but is key to the entire process.

When initially asked to serve, I wasn’t thrilled by it because I preferred to stay on the sidelines. But as strongly as I feel this redundancy and inefficiency has to be fixed, I just couldn’t say no.

Also, I wanted to sort of serve as the public’s eyes and ears to ensure this wasn’t just a political charade or a battle over power.

I can say, with all my heart, that I think every person on the board is looking at the big picture and not angling for personal agendas.

No one has focused on how it will negatively or positively impact their own little part of this. Instead, each and every person is content to look for a better solution and let those other details work themselves out later.

But the key questions remain: What exactly is emergency services? How much will it cost to merge dispatching?

The first task was to simply define “emergency services.”

And while that may sound easy, it really isn’t. In fact, it might be the most important part of the whole process.

Just ask county leaders who, over the years, have spent money from the half percent sales tax on a lot of things that most would say aren’t under that definition.

Voter registration, boater education, the dog pound, the soil and water district, the lawrence county airpark, real estate department, to name a few.

Sound like emergency services to you? No? Me neither.

But all those — as well as significant assistance to the sheriff’s office — have received money in recent years from the half percent sales tax.

That remains a sore spot for many in the county, especially volunteer firefighters.

When this tax was put in place, it didn’t require a vote of the people. But, politically, it did require support from the community.

The firefighters don’t feel they have ever gotten what they were promised or what was intended. Some don’t think the sheriff’s office should be funded with this revenue either.

But for the committee’s purpose, we are looking to define exactly what emergency services would be. That list goes like this: ambulance, 911 system, emergency management agency, police and sheriff’s office and the fire departments.

We will urge the county not to spend money on other areas, but ultimately that falls on the commissioners. All we can do is make a recommendation.

The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 at the 911 office. These key points will be the focus and the public is encouraged to have a voice.

After all, consolidation of Lawrence County’s 911 and dispatching system isn’t about helping one agency or another. The bottom line is getting this right could save lives and make all our communities better and safer places to live.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.