New London, Waterford, East Lyme push for legislation to allow regionalizing dispatch

New London - If the three municipalities ultimately buy into the idea, a regional emergency dispatch center serving New London, East Lyme and Waterford would be the first of its kind in the state.

And while the state has pushed the idea of regionalization and offered large financial incentives, lawmakers have yet to establish legislation allowing a public entity to form a regional center, according to Tammy Daugherty, New London's development and planning director.

That will soon change, she predicts. All three towns are pushing for legislation to allow municipalities across the state to consolidate services and be able to accept state and federal grants and allow employees to receive benefits. Others towns proposing similar joint ventures would stand to benefit.

Daugherty was among the project managers of the proposed New London Regional Communications Center to present the new City Council with a study released in July that backs the idea as a way to cut costs and increase efficiency.

The presentation, highlighted on Wednesday by Waterford police Lt. Stephen Bellos and Lt. Brett Mahoney, is being given to the newly elected council and boards in each participating town because they will be the ones voting on the idea. Town leaders have already said they are open to the idea of a shared facility.

The study recommends the creation of the dispatch center in Waterford's existing facility near its police station with a combined savings of $61,000 a year in equipment and maintenance costs. The center would employ 21 full-time dispatchers, the same number working now, while eliminating the need for about 25 part-timers working in the three towns. The estimated combined saving on manpower is nearly $154,000 a year.

Upgrades to Waterford's facilities, which would dispatch fire, emergency medical and police services, would be about $425,000, plus another $54,250 in annual maintenance fees, according to the study.

The state offers up to $750,000 in transitional grants and yearly subsidies for regionalizing, with more money available depending on how many municipalities decide to get together.

Since only nonprofits and LLCs run regional dispatch facilities in Connecticut, Daugherty said the group studying the idea looked to the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resource Recovery Authority as a model for organization. The group is made up of 12 cities and towns and was created as a way to tackle waste issues regionally.

The regional center would be governed by a board with representatives from each municipality, and costs would be split based on the number of calls for service. New London, with more than 11,000 calls for service in a year, has more than the other two towns combined.

Mahoney said there would be many benefits to using one computer system for data entry and communications that could be shared by three neighboring communities who already plan together for large-scale events.

Mahoney said that not only would the shared center streamline services, but it would also have a dedicated supervisor, a dispatcher, to oversee operations. None of the dispatch centers have supervisors at all times, he said. There would be four dispatchers working per shift, two dedicated to police, one for EMS and another for fire.

Among other questions, City Councilor Martin Olsen asked how comfortable dispatchers from other towns would be fielding calls in the city.

City dispatcher Richard Waselik said many dispatchers are also first responders, and maps are readily available. He suggested a mix of dispatchers from each area working together would help familiarize themselves with the three municipalities.

Waselik, chief steward for the local union, said dispatchers in general are not opposed to the idea, but he could not speak to the eventual labor negotiations that would be needed with such a move.

Daugherty said work continues on an implementation plan, with no timeline set for a vote needed by the City Council to endorse the idea.

g.smith@theday.com

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