New London City Council OKs bonding $4.3M for computers, roads

New London — An infusion of city funds is expected to move the city’s emergency dispatch center into the 21st century and one step closer to a partnership with Waterford.

The City Council this week voted to borrow $4.3 million for capital improvements. About $1.2 million is earmarked for citywide information technology improvements and another $900,000 for an upgrade of the city’s emergency dispatch system.

A $2.1 million portion of the appropriation will fund the continuation of a road work and sidewalk replacement project.

Police Chief Peter Reichard said the department will use the money to purchase a computer aided dispatch system from TriTech Software Systems, which will piggyback on the Waterford police department's system and link with it to allow the sharing of information across police, fire and emergency medical services. The main server, or backbone, of the system will be in Waterford.

New London spent about $2.38 million for a radio system overhaul in 2013 that uses Waterford's infrastructure for New London’s signals.

Reichard said the new dispatch system will eliminate redundancies and paperwork caused by the outdated software systems used now that are incompatible in several areas.

“Right now, many things are done on paper and manually entered,” Reichard said.

Among other things, the system automatically will collect and allow for easy digital submittal of traffic stop data in compliance with the state’s anti-racial-profiling law, The Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act. The web-based system will more efficiently allow transfer of data between dispatch, officers' vehicles, booking and fingerprinting departments.

With Waterford and New London dispatchers trained and working on the same software programs, Reichard said a consolidated location for a regional dispatch center will be that much easier. A feasibility study conducted in 2013 by the towns of Waterford, New London and East Lyme suggested there would be costs savings for all three municipalities and the best location for the center was at the Waterford Emergency Communications Center.

Once a potential partner, East Lyme has since dropped out of the discussion. East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said while the town will stay aware of opportunities for regionalization and shared services, the significant cost of capital upgrades and differences between the towns' dispatch services "didn't seem like a good fit."

"Our time hasn't come yet but I think the time will come when we need to have that discussion," Nickerson said.

Reichard said the real work to regionalize the dispatch center will come when it is time to start personnel discussions. Talks in the past have included the idea of the involved municipalities creating a standalone entity with an executive director and an interlocal agreement rather than a privately run entity. State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who was East Lyme's first selectman when the idea was conceived, helped pass legislation in 2015 enabling such an entity.

Reichard said talks with Waterford about regionalizing remain ongoing and it's much too early to speculate on a timeline for the initiative or any further details, such as how many dispatchers would be needed.

In addition to the $900,000 for upgrades, the New London City Council on Monday approved funding, about $40,000 over six years, for the department to lease a new fingerprint scanner.

Mayor Michael Passero, while a city councilor in 2015, opposed funding for the dispatch equipment on grounds the city did not have in place a reliable capital improvement plan. Passero said his administration has been saddled with ballooning debt payments but has been frugal for the past two years when it comes to borrowing money.

He said technology upgrades in the city, which include network servers, are long overdue — a "critical need" — and the new equipment at the police department will help ease liability concerns over safety and security raised by the city's risk manager. He said the exact final costs of what will be purchased are not yet determined but added, "we're sort of breathing a sigh of relief we have some money to work with."

Passero said he still plans to limit bond spending and, when the city is financially able, will create a capital recurring account to draw on money for projects that the city knows are needed. Because of deferred maintenance in the past, however, he said he expects at least $2 million will be needed each year for the foreseeable future to address roads and sidewalks across the city.

A representative from the Waterford Police Department was not available for comment for this report.

g.smith@theday.com

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