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Hartford — The legislature’s Planning and Development Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would give municipalities the power to create a regional dispatch authority for police, fire and emergency services. It now goes to the House of Representatives for a possible vote.
The bill is in response to a request from New London, Waterford and East Lyme for authorization to create a regional dispatch center with a governing board. The governing board would include representatives from each municipality, and the regional dispatch center would be eligible for state and federal grants. The participating municipalities would also have the flexibility to negotiate how they want to divvy up costs and how many employees would come from each.
Currently, interlocal agreements can leave one municipality with a disproportionate share of the total costs and responsibilities.
“We didn’t want one municipality to have the burden or responsibility of running the dispatch service,” said Tammy Daugherty, New London’s development and planning director, in a telephone interview Tuesday.
She said she is working on an implementation plan that should be finished in the next month or two.
“We are looking to get it up and running as quickly as possible, but also we want to make sure that everything is agreed upon and that we are doing it the right way, with training, and that all the technology is in place,” she said.
If the legislation passes, implementation would include setting up the governing board and a contractual agreement. Each municipality’s legislative body would have to pass the contractual agreement and expenses, Daugherty said.
Once the governing board is in place, it can start negotiating with the labor unions from each city or town, she said.
“And that could be short or could be lengthy,” she said. “There are sort of a lot of unknowns.”
She said the hope is that the regional dispatch center would be set up within two years.
Last month, municipal leaders testified at the state Capitol that there is already enormous overlap among the three towns. This legislation would allow the communities to do a better job of coordinating in ways they already do, they said.
“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,” New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio told the Public Safety and Security Committee, which passed the bill before it went to Planning and Development.
Local public safety and government officials gave a presentation in January, saying that 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. The regional dispatch center would also save about $61,000 annually in equipment and maintenance costs.
The center would also be eligible for up to $750,000 in transitional grants and annual subsidies from the state for regionalization.
The planners of the project are considering financing the regional dispatch center by charging municipalities based on the number of emergency calls received.
So far, some municipalities in Connecticut have regionalized by creating nonprofits and limited liability companies, but they aren’t eligible for the same funding and their employees aren’t government employees, Daugherty said.
“We are going with best practices,” she said.