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The Pickaway County Dispatch & 9-1-1 Debate

On Sunday September 15, this embedded Facebook Post was made on the “Circleville Police Department” website.

With all the phone outages recently in Circleville and Pickaway County we wanted to give our residents a little insight to the reasons our communications center has not been affected.
The safety of our citizens has always been our primary focus, for this reason we have fail safe backup systems. We have multiple phone connections, every system has a backup system which is why we didn’t go down last week or the other previous times when phones were down. Due to security reasons we cannot name all all systems or their backup systems. We want our citizens to be confident knowing public safety is in good hands.

That seems like a fairly innocent, behind-the-scenes look at a local police department. If you’ve been paying attention to Pickaway County and Circleville City public meetings, there’s a lot being said between the lines on social media. This is one of many posts in a long campaign by the Circleville Police Department and the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office to influence a couple of significant negotiations between the two parties.

Merging Call Centers

The City of Circleville and Pickaway County have been discussing merging emergency call centers. Under the proposed plan, the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office would dispatch all calls, and the city of Circleville would no longer have a dispatch center. Pickaway County would receive about $200k in service fees from Circleville City, and the city would realize a $200k savings from not having a call center, even after paying the county. The future of the current Circleville City dispatchers would have to be negotiated in such a deal. Some or all of them could get hired by the Sheriff’s Office, or their positions could be eliminated altogether. Circleville Police Chief Baer has said on multiple occasions, this uncertainty is causing morale issues with his dispatchers.

In public comments, mayor McIlroy has said that Circleville citizens already pay taxes to the county and they shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee to the county for dispatching to the police department. County officials have said, dispatching for the city will cost the county significantly more money. They add that even after paying the county for dispatching services, it will still be a significant savings to the city. Finally, they aren’t obligated to dispatch for the city, and they are unwilling to take on the extra expense without a funding agreement with the city.

Sheriff’s Office Phone Outages

The Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office has had several 9-1-1 and non-emergency outages this year, primarily due to the reliance on Frontier as their phone provider. Frontier is obligated by law to provide a certain amount of uptime but is not doing so. They are currently under investigation by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for not meeting their availability obligations.

VOIP Backup

The County does not have a VOIP backup for their emergency phone systems. VOIP stands for “Voice Over Internet Protocol”. VOIP runs over the internet instead of a traditional land phone line. The most common provider for such a solution in this area would be Spectrum; however, other companies (besides Frontier) do have data lines in the area that could facilitate VOIP. I’m assuming the city of Circleville has a VOIP backup (because they chose not to disclose this in their post, but it’s the most probable solution). When we spoke to Pickaway County officials, a VOIP backup was on their radar, but they did no have a solid time-frame for implementing it.

9-1-1 Commission

The County and City of Circleville have also been in a multi-year, politically charged negotiation over handling 911 calls. A fee is collected on all cell phone bills in the county by state law, and those fees amount to about $400k per year. This money is made available to a County-wide 9-1-1 fund regulated by a board made of 1 the Sheriff, 1 township trustee official (most populous township), and the mayor of the largest city (Circleville). At one point, the board had agreed that Circleville City would take 9-1-1 calls directly instead of having them dispatched from the County. According to the mayor of Circleville, this was never implemented and the County drug their feet on it. Then earlier this year, the trustee representative of the board changed his vote to withdraw the plan to have the city take 9-1-1 calls directly. It’s our assumption that after the city started taking their own 9-1-1 calls, they would demand a portion of the ~$400k received from the cell phone companies.

Previous Stories On this Subject

Other Social Facebook Posts by Both Departments

As you can see below, the Circleville Police Department & the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office have mentioned dispatch centers, dispatchers, and 9-1-1 quite a bit on Facebook since the beginning of the year.

These comments were added on September 24th following another reported 9-1-1 outage.
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