A few years ago, the former City Manager asked City Council to review and evaluate the future of the City running its own dispatch service. At that time, the Council was told the decision to outsource the dispatch was worth considering. The City Manager recommended the switch, but with that City Manager’s retirement looming and a few terms on the Council ending, they postponed deciding. Now, with a new City Manager in the position and a few new members sitting on the Council, a final decision had to be made so we could plan for some impending regulations that would impact our current operation. This week we announced the difficult but unanimous decision to move our dispatch services to the Wayne County Central Dispatch Center beginning in October.
If you have followed this discussion at all, you know the City had two outside offers on the table to consider instead of continuing to run the dispatch service ourselves. However, it was less a choice between three competing offers and more a question of dispatch philosophy: a self-managed department versus a regional cooperative. Studies have shown that merged services are more advantageous in the long run. Therefore, we believe this decision puts Rittman in a better position for the future, not to mention the funds it frees to be used for other Police, Fire, and EMS services. Cities large and small around the country are facing this decision. Many states have even required that communities move to a regional model of dispatch services. So we are not alone.
The Bad News First
During each meeting we had with the dispatchers, they told us themselves that they were not working this job out of need, but out of service – that they did not need the job itself, they were helping fill slots. Now, I am sure these jobs were helpful to them and their families and we all knew no matter which choice we chose, some people would be negatively affected. Due to this decision, some of my neighbors will lose their jobs. There has been significant talk about this, and I want to make things clearer.
The City has three full-time dispatchers who have worked diligently for many years. Those three were the primary coverage throughout the week. They are supported by 9 part-time dispatchers who cover the weekends. When we made our decision, one of the full-timers informed the City Manager they will retire rather than wait until the transition. The County has offered a full-time post to one of the other full-time dispatchers. Unfortunately, one full-time and nine part-time jobs will be lost.
Another common refrain we have heard is that Rittman will be less safe if 911 calls are not being answered in town. This is not true. Rittman is now answering calls for Doylestown. They are not less safe due to the call being answered in Rittman. Under our current system, if you were to call 911 and the dispatcher was handling another call, you would be rerouted to the County Dispatch Center. They would handle the initial call and send it back to Rittman when our dispatcher became available. This means some of the calls were already being answered in Wooster. Once Rittman joins the County, they will expand their call center to handle the increase in volume and there will now be multiple dispatchers ready to handle our 911 calls rather than just one.
Others have said they will miss the “hometown feel” that Dispatch has had. Unfortunately, the County cannot completely replace this, but they will give a professional 911 service that meets the state’s requirements. Additionally, the County will pay to have a dispatcher stationed in the Police Department during business hours, meaning there will still be someone in town answering calls and handling walk-ins.
When you represent all the citizens, you cannot represent all the citizens. I made my decision based upon by the values I set forth in my campaign; pursuing that which will make Rittman a city that grows, helping our citizens to thrive, and our enabling our children to flourish. The economic stability of the City plays a big part in all those values, and this decision promotes economic stability. By outsourcing the service, it frees up funds that can be used to provide other safety services. It also positively impacts the homeowners of Rittman by avoiding the need for a hefty 4.0 mill levy. That is money that you get to keep.
So What Now?
We are confident that this is the best choice. It will be hard for the next year; the City has significant logistic issues to work out. I trust our City Manager, Derek Feuerstein, Police Chief Arcuri, Fire Chief Sweigert, and EMS Chief Baillis will lead their respective departments through the transition well. The goal is that there will not be any noticeable difference for the citizens. When you need an officer, one will be there. If you need an ambulance, one will be there.
We hope to do those things even better. There are plans to increase the number of police officers on duty, including an officer patrolling our school buildings during the school day. The City is also working on ways to improve our Fire Department’s response time. New gear and equipment could be bought sooner for our first responders, without requiring additional levies. If the City can do those things more efficiently without raising taxes or taking vital money from other departments, then we are being better stewards of the resources available to us.
Many people, myself included, wish that Rittman were as great as it used to be. But leaving things as they are doesn’t mean Rittman will automatically return to its former glory. We must strive for better things because progress and change are painful but worth it. I serve on Council because I believe it is worth working for, and I hope you do too.