Leaders of East Lyme, Waterford, and New London signed an agreement yesterday approving a study to look into forming a regional dispatch center that would be shared by all three municipalities. The towns' leaders also signed a grant application to help fund the project.
“It appears obvious to us there will be savings,” New London Mayor Daryl Finizio said. “The big question is how much.”
The three municipalities will look to share one dispatch center, most likely the existing Waterford dispatch center, for all fire, police and emergency medical service calls. Per stipulation of the agreement signed Wednesday, the study will be completed and the results presented by July 1.
East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward, and Finizio all said that while they expect this to result in savings, it is more about providing better service. They added that the state might mandate regionalization soon, so it would be better to do this now rather than deal with mandates later.
“Service is the primary driver here, not economics,” Steward said.
In 2012, Waterford and East Lyme tried to regionalize their dispatch services, although the union that represents the East Lyme dispatchers objected and the merger failed. Formica said dealing with labor will be a challenge, but Finizio said no one group should override what is best for all three communities.
"No interest group should ever have a veto power over good safety or good public policy," Finizio said.
There is also grant money available from the state if the three municipalities regionalize their dispatch center. According to a press release, the three municipalities could receive an initial $750,000 state grant for the cost associated with the merger, and then another that would give the three municipalities $215,000 a year to keep it going.
Right now, Waterford, East Lyme, and New London employ 21 full-time dispatchers to run a dispatch center in each town, along with several part-time dispatchers to fill shifts. A report from a program endorsed by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials handed out at yesterday's press conference showed that only 20 full-time dispatchers would be needed for the three-municipality dispatch center.
The report recommended forming an LLC to oversee the dispatch center, with a governance board composed of members from all three municipalities ruling it. This is to “do away with the perception that one municipality is working for another,” the report states.
The report recommends splitting the cost of running the dispatch center based on the percentage of calls received per municipality each year. For example, if 1,000 calls are received in a year, and 230 of them are East Lyme calls, then East Lyme would pay 23 percent of the cost to run the dispatch center for that year.
The report also suggests having all dispatchers use the same procedures and that dispatch-related computer systems in all three municipalities be standardized. However, New London police officers would still go to police calls in New London, East Lyme firefighters would still go to fires in East Lyme, and so on.
Each municipality will have a project manager to oversee the study. New London will use Tammy Daugherty, an administrator in the mayor's office, and Waterford will use Waterford Police Lt. Brett Mahoney. Formica said East Lyme is still deciding on who will run the study for the town.
The study will be completed and the results presented by July 1. Further action will be taken then, according to the municipal leaders.