Sun., 6:02pm: Multi-county 911 system proposed

LISBON – Columbiana County’s 911 committee wants to take it slow in exploring whether to join with two other counties in creating a linked system as a way to save money.

The advisory committee agreed this week to pursue joining with Carroll and Harrison counties in upgrading to shared Next Generation (NG) 911 system but only after several members expressed reservations about making any formal commitment at this time.

County Commissioner Tim Weigle, who serves as committee chairman, began looking into joining with other counties as a way to save money after being approached by Carroll County officials. The two are contemplating upgrading to NG911, which allows 911 systems to accept text messages, photographs and videos from cellphones and other electronic devices.

Weigle extended the invitation to Harrison County since all three sets of commissioners have a working relationship with each other as members of the solid waste disposal committee that serves all three counties.

Weigle told the committee he would like a vote one way or the other before going any further. “If we can at least agree to work together we can begin exploring the costs,” he said.

Columbiana Police Chief Tim Gladis said that while he was in favor of exploring joining with Carroll and Harrison counties, he told Weigle any formal commitment would likely require the county’s 911 plan be amended and that takes the approval of the majority of communities in the county, not just the county commissioners.

“I think we need to be careful how we do this and not deviate from the (911 plan),” he said.

The county’s plan established five locations where 911 calls go, based on geography: the sheriff’s office and at the Columbiana, East Liverpool, East Palestine and Salem police departments, with the calls then rerouted to the appropriate agency when needed.

The plan was approved by governing boards of communities representing at least 60 percent of the county’s population. The idea of having multiple answering centers was done to save money and also gain the support of the five communities in passing the plan. Gladis is of the opinion joining with the two other counties will require the same 60 percent approval.

“I think this is considered a major change,” he said.

With NG911, each of the counties’ systems would still operate independently while being linked to a single shared system. Weigle said the reason he is exploring this is the cost. It would cost $408,000 just to upgrade the county’s 911 system to the next Windows operating system, whereas Morgan County recently switched to NG911 for $470,000.

The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, a point made by East Liverpool Safety-Service Director Ryan Estell, who said the city has its own unique 911 needs to take into consideration compared to rural areas, “and keeping that in mind as we go forward is important.”

Some police departments that serve as 911 answering centers are concerned about Weigle’s suggestion that now may also be the time to consider consolidating to a single location as a way to save money.

Estell suggested the three counties pursue a grant through the state’s Local Government Innovation Fund program to pay for a feasibility study to determine the advantages and disadvantages, financial and operationally, of joining together for NG911. Weigle agreed that was a good idea and would pursue it.

The commissioners and 911 staff from Carroll and Harrison counties attended the meeting, and Carroll County Commissioner Robert Wirkner said they have already voted to explore joining with the county.

Lt. Joseph Dragovich of the Lisbon Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said NG911 is the future. “We have to get there anyway, so we might as well start now,” he said.

During the meeting, a lengthy presentation was made by Steve Ashurkoff of General Dynamics, the company that installed Morgan County’s NG911 system. He told the committee the shift in federal funding for 911 is toward NG911.