Mayor's Corner: Evaluating State Of Ohio's Dispatch Mandate

If you have read this column over time, you know that safety will always be my top focus as your mayor. Safety in our city has many layers, but one that ties many of those aspects together is our emergency dispatch center, which helps connect those who need urgent assistance with the help they need. We have a great team in place in our dispatch center, and I appreciate all the hard work they do to keep us all safe.

Unfortunately, a law passed years ago by the Ohio legislature dictates how state dollars can be used to pay for 911 call centers, and it poses a threat to Lakewood’s ability to fund this crucial service. That law, found in Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Section 128, mandates that any county with more than three 911 call centers will have its state payments cut in half. (Counties that have a city with a population over 175,000 can have one additional 911 call center). Oddly, that law applies to counties no matter what their total population or call volume is. For sake of context, Lakewood actually has more residents than over 30 of Ohio’s 88 counties – yet, this state law applies the same to us as it does to those sparsely populated regions.

With this law looming over Ohio cities, several local dispatch operations in Cuyahoga County have consolidated; however, Lakewood has continued to maintain our local dispatch. This continues to be true despite Cuyahoga County’s decision last year to begin imposing a penalty on Lakewood’s dispatch funding. I made the decision to pay that penalty last year and decline options to enter a consolidated dispatch center because I feel that a local presence is preferable for our city, and it was worth that cost. However, I also am obligated to explore all options as that county penalty could increase dramatically soon and make this situation even more difficult. I would not be meeting my obligations to Lakewood taxpayers if I simply ignored a state law on the books that will have a major impact on Lakewood’s safety operations and our budget. I have also sought the input and counsel of our fire chief, police chief, and our IT department on these issues to continue assessing options and potential impacts.

Last week we sent a communication to Lakewood City Council about the impact that the state legislation is having on the future of our city’s emergency dispatch center. We asked Council to refer the matter to the public safety committee so that there can be a public dialogue on the issue and further exploration of all the factors at play and the options on the table.

One x-factor in all of this is pending legislation, House Bill 445, which is currently in committee and, in its present form, would appear to repeal the problematic law in ORC 128. As we all know, bills often change radically during the legislative process, but my hope is that this legislation makes its way through and solves this issue.  I am in contact with state legislators on the matter. In the meantime, our public process in Lakewood will move forward to evaluate the dispatch issue, and I will continue to keep all impacted parties and Lakewood taxpayers informed.

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Volume 18, Issue 12, Posted 12:51 PM, 06.15.2022