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Ledyard - Police department dispatchers say they are in a fight for their jobs as the town considers outsourcing the dispatch center.
Mayor John Rodolico said the town council began asking five years ago for an assessment of the town's police dispatch service as they considered either finding an additional town to join the Ledyard emergency communications center or outsourcing the service.
Town councilors also were looking to possibly take advantage of state incentives to regionalize dispatch efforts.
Ledyard has been dispatching Preston emergency services for close to 10 years, Rodolico said, and receives $25,000 a year from Preston. The state also paid the town a stipend of $68,000 for the consolidation.
The emphasis over the past five years has been to bring another town's dispatch center to Ledyard and bring in more state money.
"There's a feeling that if you get to a magic number of three towns you'd be eligible for significant funding," Rodolico said.
But other towns in the region have either already regionalized their dispatch efforts or feel it would be inconvenient to bring them to Ledyard, he said. In the past year, the focus has shifted to either sticking with Ledyard's service or outsourcing.
A subcommittee of the public safety commission is in talks with the Town of Groton, Montville, and Ledyard's own emergency communications to determine which would be the best option for the town.
Each option has its own set of strengths, Rodolico said. Groton Town has an "established, well staffed" center, he said, while Montville has a brand-new dispatching center with state-of-the-art equipment. And the town is familiar with Ledyard's own dispatchers, who Rodolico said are qualified and have "worked very well." Rodolico said he is not leaning toward one option or another just yet.
"I can say right now truthfully that every one of the three options is viable, every one of the three options has its advantages, and every one of the three options has shortcomings," he said.
Down the road, Rodolico said there is a concern that the state could force regionalization of dispatch centers, leaving the town without a say.
Another consideration concerns the imminent approval of a new police station, which is slated for referendum in May. The cost of a dispatch center is included in that estimate, which ranges from $6.3 million to $6.5 million depending on the site selection.
"It would be nice to know before then, but it's not necessarily mandatory that we do," Rodolico said.
The next step will be to nail down the cost. By the end of the month, Rodolico said the subcommittee will decide whether to pursue a five-year cost plan from each of the three dispatch centers.
"We have two choices to make," Rodolico said. "One is the status quo, and the other is to continue to pursue the options."
The Ledyard Police Union sent a letter to Rodolico and the town council this week voicing their opposition to outsourcing the dispatch service, which consists of six full-time dispatchers and eight part-timers.
"We don't want to see a valuable piece of this department be outsourced to a surrounding town," said Daniel Gagnon, the police union president and a police officer.
Gagnon said eliminating Ledyard's dispatchers would simply be a bid to save the town money while eliminating an essential service. Dispatchers in Ledyard are familiar with the layout of the town as well as the histories of frequent 911 callers, including potential dangers - if someone is a gun owner, for example.
"If they outsource the dispatch, I don't think we're going to get the same heads-up on those calls," he said.
Bob Corwin, vice president of the town hall employees union, has been a dispatcher for Ledyard police for about seven years. He said the union has been meeting with town officials since the administration of Mayor Fred Allyn about the future of the dispatch center.
It was when Rodolico began bringing in other towns last year for discussions of regionalization that Corwin said the dispatchers became concerned.
"I think it's bad for the town," Corwin said of outsourcing the service.
"I think we offer a good service to the town. I think if you outsource it to someone else ... generally wherever that service is located, that town tends to get the best service, and then everyone after that seems to get a little bit less service."
Gagnon said there is also the issue of phone jockeying: Calls to a town other than where an emergency is located could result in a delayed dispatch, he said.
"You're talking a minute or two," he said, "but two or three minutes could be somebody's life."
Corwin said that dispatchers also provide the service of manning the police station 24/7. There are not enough officers to post someone in the building at all times, he said, and they are generally out on patrol.
There is a good possibility, Corwin said, that when someone comes in to report a problem and dispatchers aren't there to field them, that person would have to pick up a telephone hanging on the wall and speak with someone in another town and wait instead of speaking to someone face to face.
"Who's gonna do that if we're not here?" he said.