Regional dispatch still a goal as Formica’s bill seeks to create efficiencies, cost-savings [New London Day]

February 23, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New London Day
Published February 21. 2015 4:00AM

By Greg Smith
Publication: The Day

The towns of New London, Waterford and East Lyme continue to seek state legislation to set the legal groundwork to enable the municipalities to share a regional emergency dispatch center.

Legislation proposed by state Sen. Paul Formica would allow the municipalities to create their own governing board, while keeping dispatchers employed as municipal employees. While there are other regional dispatch centers in the state run by private entities, there are no existing facilities that handle three different municipal police departments.

New London Development and Planning Director Tammy Daugherty, who is involved in the project, said she and others have spent years working to establish the New London County Regional Communication Center with an eye towards creating efficiencies and cost savings.

She compared the proposed governing structure of the dispatch center to that of a health district, or the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resource Recovery Authority, an organization composed of a dozen municipalities that tackle waste issues regionally.

“We do not want to outsource our dispatch functions,” Daugherty said. “We want to retain that local oversight over an important service to our communities.”

Daugherty said legislation allowing the regionalization would allow access to state and federal grant funds and benefits for workers as municipal employees. Legislation proposed last year specifically for the regional dispatch center ended up being closer to an interlocal agreement and not sufficient for their purposes, she said.

Waterford Police Lt. Brett Mahoney, who submitted testimony in favor of the bill at a public hearing Tuesday, said an interlocal agreement does not begin to cover the complexities created by an agreement with employees from three different municipalities with their own benefits packages and retirement plans.

“Combining three municipalities and their respective emergency service and everyday needs is a radical departure from what has been the norm in Connecticut,” Mahoney wrote.

A study on the consolidated dispatch released last summer recommended the creation of the dispatch center in Waterford’s existing facility, the most modern of the three used by the municipalities. The study estimates the center would employ 21 full-time dispatchers, the same number working now, while eliminating some 25 part-timers. The study estimates savings in equipment and manpower costs.

While upgrades would costs an estimated $425,000, plus another $54,000 in annual maintenance fees, $750,000 in transitional grants and yearly subsidies are offered by the state – a way to encourage regionalization.

Not everyone is on board with the proposed legislation. Blake Petty, vice president of the Trumbull police union, said his union was opposed to the idea. Trumbull Police uses both civilian and sworn officers as dispatchers. The legislation, Blake said, could lead to “civilianization” and privatization of police bargaining unit positions there.

“Instead of reinventing the dispatch facility wheel, we would rather encourage the committee to propose increased funding for the replacement of old and outdated dispatching infrastructure,” Blake wrote.

Montville is currently involved in a merger, signing on with and housing the non-profit Colchester Emergency Communications at the Montville Public Safety Building. The expected merger would create a regional dispatch center with nine member towns.