Legislation would facilitate creation of regional dispatch center

Hartford - The New London mayor and the first selectmen from Waterford and East Lyme waited at the state Capitol for more than three hours to ask state legislators to support a bill that would give the three municipalities the ability to create a regional dispatch center.

The bill wouldn't require the municipalities to create a regional dispatch center, but rather would give them the opportunity to create an authority that would be paid for by each municipality based on the number of emergency calls from each community. Current state law only provides municipalities with the ability to create an interlocal agreement, which Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said would mean one of the municipalities would have to take ownership of the dispatch center, potentially leaving them with a disproportionate amount of the total costs.

The three local officials said their communities are already working together and that the regionalization would allow their public safety departments to do a better job and possibly save some money.

"On a daily basis, an individual is picked up in East Lyme with a medical condition; they are brought to L+M Hospital in New London," said New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio before the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. "If there is a fire in Waterford, the New London fire departments are responding alongside Waterford fire departments at the fire scene."

Regionalization would simply allow the communities to do a better job of coordinating in ways they already do, he said.

The three municipalities have been studying how to coordinate their dispatch centers for police, fire and emergency medical services for about two years, and emergency personnel have wanted to do this for decades, Finizio said.

No other Connecticut municipality has planned a regional dispatch center, though the state has offered financial incentives for regionalization efforts, the local officials told the Public Safety and Security Committee.

The bill would go beyond New London, Waterford and East Lyme and would allow any municipality to create a regional dispatch authority. If the New London, Waterford and East Lyme program is successful, they might be able to add more communities to their group, said East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica.

"While we feel that saving money is secondary to enhancing public safety, the expanded capabilities that would occur when multiple municipalities join together under a common entity established by this bill would do both," Formica said.

Local public safety and government officials gave a presentation in January that said the creation of a regional dispatch center in Waterford's existing facility near its police station would cost about $425,000, plus annual maintenance fees of $54,250. The plan would be to keep the same number of full-time dispatchers, currently 21, and eliminate about 25 part-time workers, which would save about $154,000 a year, according to the presentation.

State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, who serves on the Public Safety and Security Committee, asked Formica whether he had any concerns about the dispatchers in each town having trouble locating people in emergency situations in other towns.

Formica said there would be training, and "we expect to have a minimum of three dispatchers on. There could be dispatchers, each from a variety of towns."

Steward said the state legislators representing their municipalities support the bill and that municipal employees have been involved throughout the planning of the regional dispatch center.

Laurie Lewis, training coordinator and police liaison at the Waterford Police Department, said having the same protocols across municipalities would improve response times.

"I think it would make it a lot easier, and when someone is sitting in the room with me instead of taking the extra few seconds to call and give me the information and then I put it out," Lewis said.

Under the regionalization plan, the computer systems, including the computers in police officers' cars - called mobile data terminals - would be linked and allow for intelligence gathering across municipalities. Waterford police Lt. Steve Bellos said he was excited about the new technology.

"The speed with which everyone can be on the same page, coordinated from the same point, all talking to each other, it's a much better system and a much better way to provide the services that we provide now," Finizio said.

j.somers@theday.com

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