Ledyard — It was a packed house again at the Public Safety Commission's meeting Tuesday afternoon, and the town's emergency services dispatchers again were told what they didn't want to hear: The future of Ledyard dispatch remains undecided.
Efforts to regionalize began back in 2011, and at June's meeting, Public Safety Committee Chairman Sean McGuckin reviewed about 18 months of work, beginning with the formation of a subcommittee to do a cost analysis of regionalization vs. the status quo, the town handling its own dispatch services.
At that point, the subcommittee had narrowed its options to three: keeping service in town, outsourcing to Groton or outsourcing Montville. McGuckin said then that bringing in Voluntown also was an option, but would not "solve any money problems." Ledyard has been dispatching Preston emergency services for a little more than a decade now, bringing in $25,000 annually, but the addition of Voluntown only would bring in an additional $5,000.
Though Mayor John Rodolico said repeatedly Tuesday that this issue is not about money, dispatchers and their supporters who stood in the back of the Town Hall Annex publicly disagreed and expressed their frustration with the holdup while 14 jobs remain in limbo.
Rodolico said current options are to stick with the status quo, to negotiate schedule and staffing changes in Ledyard to include bringing up staffing levels to having two dispatchers on duty at all times — or to continue discussions with other towns.
Ledyard's dispatch center comprises six full-time dispatchers and eight part-timers and does not staff for two dispatchers to be on duty around the clock. Rodolico said he has told other towns that two dispatchers, 24/7, is his minimum staffing expectation when it comes to regionalization.
Rodolico said he has "already begun to go down the road" of the third option — continuing discussions with other towns — but is waiting for a full proposal from the Ledyard Emergency Communications Center.
Chief Emergency Communications Specialist Paula Jean Smith said she has provided the mayor with all the information he has requested, but working with the town's labor unions has complicated the process of estimating the cost of bringing up staffing levels.
At June's meeting, McGuckin said the Town of Groton would be the least expensive option, while keeping the center here would be the most expensive but, "operationally," the best choice. Montville would fall somewhere in the middle with cost and potentially could allow Ledyard's dispatchers to remain employed, albeit elsewhere.
Rodolico said the area and state trend has been to regionalize dispatch centers in recent years. He said he is anticipating a state mandate to do so sometime down the road. Another factor is the town's consideration of a creating an independent police department. Ledyard Police now enlists a resident state trooper.
Randy Katich, a volunteer firefighter, called the stalled efforts "humorous" and insisted the issue revolves entirely around cost, comparing outsourcing to buying cheap products from China and keeping dispatch in Ledyard to buying American goods.
"The town is trying to fix something that's not broken," he said.
After several public appeals along these lines, Ledyard Fire Chief John Doucette, who sits on the commission, said he understood the frustration.
"If I could stop the process tonight, I would," he said.
Rodolico will present his options to the Town Council next week, and the Public Safety Commission will meet again Sept. 17 at 4 p.m.