MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners on Thursday approved spending $573,281.60 on a project to upgrade, renovate and relocate aspects of the sheriff's department -- including the 9-1-1 dispatch center and road patrol offices -- within the Peoples Community Center.
The sheriff's department has dedicated another $150,000 to the overall cost of the $723,281.70 effort that will greatly enhance the center's 9-1-1 capabilities, including its software.
Just as it did earlier this year when it purchased new voting equipment for the board of elections, the three commissioners utilized their capital improvement fund to pay for the work on the facility at 597 Park Ave. East.
The idea was first discussed by commissioners in March in a $1.2 million plan that also originally included incorporating the sheriff's department emergency operations center. That EOC has been taken from the project and the center will be paired with the county's Emergency Management Agency.
"When I first came in and were looking at projects like this, it was always, 'Who could we borrow the money from?' Commissioner Marilyn John said. "It feels pretty good not to be talking about borrowing money to do projects like this."
The county's current 9-1-1 dispatch center is handling more than three times the number of calls for which it was originally designed, according to sheriff's dept. Capt. Jim Sweat.
The current center, with four terminals and the software it utilizes was designed to handle about 50,000 calls annually. The center is averaging about 170,000 per year now.
"First and foremost, no other public safety arm or organization that reaches every single resident in Richland County," Sweat said. "Richland County 9-1-1 is the only public safety aspect that does that.
"We answer every 911 call that is made by a cell phone for the entire county (including all municipalities, villages and townships)," Sweat said. "And more than 90 percent of our calls are wireless calls.
"This will make us exponentially larger. We will have six terminals rather than four and also the ability to expanded if need-be," Sweat said.
Commissioner Tony Vero said the project is a great thing for the county.
"You can't skimp on the safety of Richland County. (Dispatchers) are doing a great job with the small area ... it's cramped, cold sometime, sometimes it's warm, there is condensation dripping, an HVAC unit hanging above one of the the terminals," Vero said.
"We need to get you guys in a more suitable area to adequately protect the people of Richland County," Vero said.
Commissioners also discussed the need to replenish the capital improvements fund, which will benefit from some long-term debts coming off the books during the next few years, worth about $1.6 million over the next four years.
Commissioners again discussed perhaps setting aside $250,000 for capital projects from the general fund each year over the next four years. Final decisions on that effort will come during upcoming 2020 budget discussions with the various county agencies.