Despite efforts, regional dispatch remains just an ideal

Just about every local official agrees that regionalizing emergency dispatch services is a necessity, but plans for local towns to join together have been slow to come together.

Regional dispatch services have long been discussed in the southeastern part of the state. Combining several towns' dispatching for fire, police and emergency services would create efficiencies and savings by eliminating duplication of services and various equipment, advocates say.

Montville has been a leader in soliciting other towns to join a regional dispatch center to be housed at its new $6.5 million public safety complex on Route 32. Construction continues on the complex, which is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

Earlier this month, officials from Montville, Ledyard, Preston, Groton, Stonington, Waterford and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation attended a public safety committee meeting in Ledyard that kept the regional dispatch conversation going.

"This has been an item discussed for many years without much progress," Ledyard Mayor John Rodolico said. "We recognize, and our dispatchers recognize, that we can't say, 'This is the way we do business.' We can't do business as usual."

Rodolico said his town, which provides dispatch services for itself and Preston, recently developed set of specifications for its future dispatch service.

It then sent those to six other dispatch centers: Quinebaug Valley Emergency Communications, which covers towns such as Griswold, Plainfield and Sprague; the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation dispatch center; and centers in Groton, Montville, Stonington and Waterford.

Ledyard plans to examine whether to keep its own dispatch service in place. The town has commissioned a study to learn what it would cost to build a new police station with a home for dispatch.

If Ledyard were to join another town's dispatch center, Rodolico acknowledged, it's unlikely the town's six full-time and seven part-time dispatchers all would move to the new location.

Montville Fire Marshal Raymond Occhialini reiterated Thursday that his town is interested in having Ledyard join them in the new 17,194-square-foot building across from the main gate of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center.

"I would hope they come here because we have so much in common," Occhialini said of Ledyard. "We're building a state-of-the-art facility. It's brand-new from the ground up. We'd get almost $127,000 in a grant from the (state) 911 fund to defer operational costs (if Ledyard joined)."

A proposal was raised earlier this year that would have combined dispatch for East Lyme and Waterford. The deal never came to fruition, in part because union dispatchers from East Lyme argued against the merger, which would have forced them to reapply for their jobs.

Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said earlier this week that the deal remains on hold and that it's unlikely Waterford would join with Montville. He said it's the town's preference to add other towns to its dispatch center.

New London officials also have had recent discussions with Waterford about the towns joining together. The city is also researching putting new radio antennas at Ocean Beach Park and on other buildings throughout the city as a way to enhance radio coverage.

Occhialini said previously that Montville has researched other regional dispatch centers, such as one in Tolland. Any regional dispatch center would need a regional authority - including a board of directors - to oversee operations, employee salaries and benefits.

Occhialini said efforts to bring the regional dispatch center to Montville may become easier once the town's new safety complex opens.

"We're serious," Occhialini said. "We're here."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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