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Fire chief challenges plan to bill for dispatch services

JACKSONTOWN- Licking Township Fire Company Chief Mike Wilson told trustees October 19 that he and some other Licking County fire chiefs have serious concerns about the Licking County 9-1-1 Center’s plan to charge first responder departments a fee for dispatch services.

“There is a push back from the smaller departments,” Wilson said. He said the county’s current plan is to begin charging any agency using dispatch services $6 per call (not including mutual aid) beginning July 1 and increase the charge to $12 per call beginning in 2017.

Wilson said the fire company could be charged about $3,000 for the second half of 2016 and about $12,000 per year when the fee increases to $12 per call in 2017. He said the fee would be a burden to smaller departments like his, and the money would be better spent to increase personnel presence at the station for better coverage. Wilson said he understands the need for the fee as the county recently moved into a new 9-1-1 center and upgraded its equipment. He added that there is a wide range in budgets and the ability to pay new fees across departments in the county.

“The problem I have with this, I don’t like losing control of my destiny,” he said. Wilson said the fee may continue to increase in the years to come. “There’s no telling how high the charge will go in the future,” he said.

Wilson said he and other fire chiefs have met and will continue meeting with county officials to iron out details. “It’s kind of up in the air,” he said. Many details still need to be decided. “We don’t know all the parameters,” Wilson said. “There are so many unanswered questions.” He is certain; however, the fee will place an undue hardship on many local departments, including Licking Township, and he and other fire chiefs would like to find a way to stop the fee.

“ It’s probably going to change,” Sean Grady, Licking County director of homeland security/ emergency management/ regional 911 told The Beacon. He agreed the plan is in development and will likely change before it’s implemented. Grady said the existing plan is to implement the fee July 1, billed quarterly in arrears, and raise the fee in 2017 so departments have time to get used to paying the fee. But, Grady said there are enough variables that the fee may not be implemented until January 2017.

Grady said some Ohio counties have a levy to cover 911 dispatch costs. “We’re one of the few counties that’s not billing in the state,” he said, adding that those who do bill charge $20 per call on average, up to $30 per call.

“The 911 center was not designed to make money,” Grady said. He said the county owns the 911 dispatch center building, all its equipment has been upgraded, and the center must comply with state mandates. Simply put, the center is expensive to operate and the costs will continue to increase. “These are living centers,” Grady said.

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