October 24, 2014

Elyria
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Laid off deputies to return under dispatching merger

ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners on Wednesday approved a long-expected deal that will see dispatchers for county Sheriff Phil Stammitti relocated to the county’s 911 Dispatch Center, a move that also will bring three laid-off deputies back to work.

Stammitti said shedding the cost of paying eight dispatchers and a supervisor will save about $650,000 annually, although the savings to his budget will be closer to $400,000 because of the three deputies being rehired.

The current sheriff’s dispatchers will be laid off in the coming weeks, but will be able to apply for jobs at 911, although the exact number that will be hired still hasn’t been determined, 911 Director Robin Jones said.

The savings also will shrink a $6.2 million budget hole county officials anticipate for 2012 because while the sheriff’s office is funded through the county’s cash-strapped general fund, 911 is funded through a levy.

Stammitti said he was pleased with the deal, which he believes could be a precursor to consolidating other law enforcement services — particularly dispatch services for other police departments in the county — in the future.

He also said that bringing back three deputies will increase the deputies working the road from 17 to 20, which will likely mean an extra deputy working most shifts.

“If you’ve got three guys back, you can put one on each shift,” Stammitti said.

The sheriff laid off 12 full-time and eight part-time deputies when the commissioners slashed about $6 million in spending across county government for 2009. Stammitti said most of the laid-off deputies have been rehired through special funds or to replace deputies who retired or otherwise left his office. Others, he said, have found other jobs.

Two of the deputies who will return to the road are working as corrections officers in the county jail, while the third currently works for the Lorain County Drug Task Force.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski called the merger of 911 and sheriff’s dispatching “awesome and exciting.”

“It’s merging things together and saving money,” she said.

Not everyone was thrilled by the decision, however.

Lucy DiNardo, staff representative for the Fraternal Order of Police in Ohio, which represents the sheriff’s dispatchers, said the union is still in negotiations over the county’s plan to lay off the dispatchers and force them to apply for new jobs at 911.

The dispatchers would have to join the United Steelworkers of America, the union which represents 911 workers, which she said could be a problem. The FOP local will continue to exist, but it will contain only one member, the sheriff’s employee who handles vehicle maintenance for Stammitti.

“We’re going to do everything we can to address this issue and basically uphold the rights of the bargaining union members,” DiNardo said.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said under a new union contract with the 911 dispatchers, also approved Wednesday, sheriff’s dispatchers hired to work at 911 will keep their seniority.

Stammitti said he has not yet determined exactly when the layoffs will come, but county officials have said most of the technical changes have been made at the 911 Dispatch Center and the employees could be moved there within the next month.

It could take up to a year to get 911 workers and former sheriff’s dispatchers crosstrained in the both jobs, however.
Commissioner Ted Kalo said he understands the concerns over the merger, but it’s what’s best for the county.

“Nobody likes change, but we have to be doing these things to come up with better ways to spend taxpayers’ money and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

Dave Noll, an adviser to the Lorain County Deputies Association, said the deputies have mixed feelings about the merger.

“We’re happy to be getting three deputies,” he said. “And we’re hoping for the best for dispatchers facing the layoff and we hope they get hired at 911.”

Commissioner Tom Williams said while he is pleased by the dispatching merger, he remains concerned about finding other places to cut. The county’s projected shortfall has prompted the commissioners to ask voters to approve a 0.25 percent sales tax increase for five years in November.

The commissioners and other elected officials have yet to determine where the cuts would come if they find themselves approximately $6 million short next year.

“I’m looking for us to do more consolidation in the county,” Williams said.
Stammitti also briefed the commissioners on his 2012 budget needs. He said this year he had a budget of about $5.2 million, but with the merger he’ll be asking for about
$4.8 million. He cautioned the commissioners that he has been delaying some expenses such as new patrol cars as he has tried to make cutbacks in recent years.

Although all the commissioners said they’d like to spare Stammitti budget cuts if the sales tax fails to pass, it was something they said the couldn’t guarantee.
Stammitti also said he anticipates a budget of about $12.1 million to run the county jail next year. Between $7 million and $7.5 million of that comes from a dedicated sales tax, but the rest of the jail budget is funded by the commissioners through the county’s general fund.

Stammitti said he can’t close the jail, just like he can’t ignore providing police protection in the townships, monitoring sex offenders, issuing concealed weapons permits and running security at the Lorain County Justice Center.

While the issue of jail overcrowding has fallen off in recent years, Stammitti warned that it could become a problem again in the future.

One idea to address the issue would be to move the county’s female inmates to the now-shuttered Elyria City Jail. He said that would free up beds for male inmates at the county jail.

Although a deal hasn’t been reached with Elyria yet, Stammitti said the negotiations would see his office stop charging Elyria for holding prisoners charged with breaking city ordinances — those charged with breaking state laws he is responsible for housing regardless of where they come from — and paying for collecting DNA samples on all felony arrests made by Elyria police, something now required under state law.

In exchange, Stammitti said, the city would allow him to use its jail as well handle maintenance and upkeep.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.