COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s Common Council has a million-dollar question to answer at its next council meeting — to update, or not to update, its city dispatch center.
Police Chief Scott Leatherman and Jay Burla, a representative from Motorola Solutions, spoke to the council about a potential renovation and replacement of equipment — some of which is more than 30 years old.
As renovations to the second floor of City Hall are nearing completion, Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel said now may be the time to make a change to the dispatch center, which is small and ill-prepared for the future. The center would be located in the location of the current mayor’s office on the first floor of city hall, across from the utilities office. The mayor’s office will be moved upstairs to what was formerly the police chief, captain and records office, after the completion of second-floor work.
The renovations were initiated by a program that allowed the city to make energy-saving changes, such as replacing windows, lighting and insulation. Money saved through the updates is used to pay for the updates.
With the mayor vacating his current office, a much larger space becomes available.
“This would effectively triple, quadruple the space,” Daniel said. “It would reutilize the space we have in City Hall and is a really good move — it’s just a matter of getting to that point.”
Burla presented a plan to replace old equipment in the new center, syncing the city with statewide operations and preparing it for Next Generation 911 — a nationwide initiative to improve emergency communication services in an ever-growing mobile-phone society.
Motorola offers a 10-year contract, in which the city could make yearly payments in a lease-to-purchase program, that includes 24/7 technical support and a complete replacement of equipment after five years. Additionally, when changes are made at the state level, Motorola would keep the city in sync, since Motorola also has a contract with the state of Indiana through 2036.
The city is looking for the council to make a quick, but careful decision on the project, as Motorola is offering a substantial discount if a contract is signed before the end of the year.
Motorola, like many companies, offers end-of-year discounts, but there is an additional incentive.
“Huntington is doing the same thing … signed up last month,” Burla said. “For us, we have project managers throughout the country. Having two projects next door to each other is enticing to us, and we provided a discount.”
That discount is to the tune of $102,623 — a 10-percent savings to the city — making the cost for Motorola’s portion $945,011. In addition, Chief Leatherman said there is about $300,000 of updates needed to the space — some for safety, some for logistics.
One concerning issue that needs to be addressed is grounding the radio tower at City Hall. Leatherman indicated that if the tower is struck by lightning, it not only could ruin dispatch equipment, it also has the potential to electrocute dispatchers. The new dispatch center would also have window shutters to use during storms and built-in protection in the walls and windows, similar to the updates made to the utilities office in recent years. The city would also purchase Call Works call-taking software, which would help prepare the city for Next Generation 911 calls.
“We might only be moving it (dispatch center) 100 feet, but there’s a lot that goes into it,” Burla said.
In total, if a decision is made at the next City Council meeting on Dec. 27, the cost would be about 1,245,000.
Daniel encouraged council members to spend time thinking about the decision during the two weeks between meetings, and a formal proposal will be presented Dec. 27.
“I hate to spring it in there, but I also think it is prudent to not take a 10-percent hit by waiting,” Daniel said.
Though this was the first formal presentation to the council about the project, the topic has been discussed at previous council meetings. Daniel indicated Leatherman has spent much time researching the project. Leatherman has met with several vendors for various portions of the project, as well as both Motorola and J&K Communications for the dispatch equipment.
The current dispatch space would be used by the growing IT department as additional server and equipment space.
The larger space also allows for growth.
“How expandable is this system — if we bring in another entity?” asked Councilman Dan Weigold.
“It’s very expandable,” Burla responded. Some centers, such as St. Joe County, have 21 consoles, while others have few.
Another plus — if something happens at City Hall and the dispatch center is no longer accessible or operable, Motorola’s equipment allows for city dispatchers to pick up and go to another agency that’s on the same program, such as Huntington, rather than having a complete backup system in place, a practice that is becoming one of the past.
Technical support will be available 24/7, and Motorola will maintain its equipment — no matter how big or small. It can be monitored remotely from Motorola’s locations in Illinois and Maryland.
“We constantly have eyes on it,” Burla said. “If we see a computer working slow — a fan isn’t working — that $10 part could bring down the whole system.”
Motorola has a field team throughout the state that can respond at a moment’s notice to the 30 dispatch centers throughout Indiana that work with Motorola.
How would the city pay for it?
“When we first started getting into the numbers, we were really struggling with the dollar amount — it’s a large amount,” Daniel said. “But some of the things we’re working on replacing are 30 years old. It’s been three decades since we’ve done an improvement. I feel like it’s time.”
Proposed funding would come from the Public Safety Local Option Income Tax budget — no taxes would be raised to complete the project. The council has been diligent with LOIT funds since its implementation in 2016.
“Because of your stewardship since the LOIT was passed, and thanks to the department heads who have not speeded all of it (third budgeted dollars) we’ve not appropriated the full amount and have some money set aside that could compensate for the first year,” Daniel said.
Daniel is also exploring local financing, which could save more money with potential lower interest rates.
Also at the council meeting:
  • The city took steps toward two “super voluntary” annexations. One area, located north of the intersection of East Hanna Street and South Summerset Trail, includes 26.59 acres of unimproved land with an assessed value of $29,000. The Comprehensive Plan indicates this area has the potential for low-density housing. Proposed development includes about 70 houses, which, due to the annexation, would be receive all city services. The second annexation area is 7.66 acres and an area with potential for commercial development, located near Armstrong Corporate Business Park at Armstrong Drive near Lincolnway West. The annexed area would be part of the business park. The council unanimously approved two resolutions and three ordinances related to the annexations — all of which move to a second reading at the next meeting.
  • Street Department Superintendent Kelly Cearbaugh indicated the city will collect leaves a couple more times, weather permitting, and have it completed by the end of the year. A contractor will come to the city around February to grind the leaves, which are offered as free mulch to local residents.
  • The Columbia City Fire Department will host its annual Christmas candy giveaway on Christmas Eve — all who attend will receive a one-pound bag of candy and an orange — a tradition since the 1970s.
  • The Parks Department is selling memberships to the aquatics center at a discount for the holidays. More information is available on the Russel & Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Center’s Facebook page.
  • City offices will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.