A proposal to centralize emergency dispatch services in Schenectady County saves money for some municipalities but costs others significantly to join the unified system, a consultant’s report shows.
Also, centralized dispatch will not address the radio system problems among emergency agencies, something that would cost millions of dollars to fix. But it will make it easier for different agencies to talk to each other by having dispatchers sitting side-by-side in the same room.
The county is pushing to consolidate emergency dispatch services. If the plan proceeds, the county would then charge each participating municipality an annual fee for the service.
The county Legislature Tuesday night approved a resolution to move the plan forward by seeking $1.5 million in state grants for startup costs. The county will learn in the spring about the grants.
The city of Schenectady and the towns of Glenville, Niskayuna and Rotterdam, which each operate a dispatch center, would save money under the proposed fee schedule.
The city will spend $1.8 million this year to operate its own dispatch center. Under centralized dispatch, it would pay approximately $1.6 million each year for five years.
Glenville would see its costs drop from $593,196 this year to $521,173 after five years. Niskayuna would go from $593,000 to $521,000, and Rotterdam from $766,000 to $675,000.
The county would contribute $470,000 annually through its 911 surcharge, to help offset costs.
Service cost concerns
Meanwhile, Duanesburg and Princetown, which currently pay nothing for dispatch services, would pay $174,000 and $66,000, respectively, over five years.
Duanesburg Supervisor Rene Merrihew said the town cannot afford to pay that, especially in light of projected declines in sales tax and mortgage tax receipts. In the first year, the town would have to pay an introductory fee of $19,000 to join the dispatch service. Each year thereafter, its fee would escalate to where it reaches $50,000 in year five. Princetown’s fee would escalate each year as well.
“I am very happy the towns and cities can save money on central dispatch, but we can’t put $20,000 in our budget. Twenty thousand into a budget our size, relatively speaking, is like $300,000 in other towns,” Merrihew said.
Every $20,000 represents 1 percent on the town’s tax levy. Its 2009 budget is $851,000. Its town general tax in 2008 is $1.24 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Princetown does not have a town tax.
Merrihew said she could not get an answer from the county as to why the town’s fee increases each year. “I asked for a basis on what they based the figures on,” she said.
Princetown Supervisor Nicholas Maura said he isn’t sure the town can afford to pay an escalating fee each year. “We are not thrilled about paying. If they get grants, we will pay less,” he said.
The state police currently dispatches emergency calls for Princetown and Duanesburg out of its Princetown station. Merrihew and Maura said the state plans to move these services elsewhere.
“The troopers will not service us for 911 calls, so we will be kind of nowhere,” Maura said. He said the county is legally obligated to dispatch for the towns should the towns decide not to participate in the consolidated dispatch service. “But we don’t want to do that to them,” he said.
Comment from the state police was not available.
QUESTIONS OF COST
Maura said the town is waiting an answer on the grants before deciding how to proceed on the fee issue. “When it comes down to it, we have not negotiated the costs. There is no point in fighting over money right now because it may not happen,” he said. “If we can get the grants, it will cut costs for equipment.”
Glenville Supervisor Frank Quinn said the town board supports consolidated dispatching, but it wants to make sure the town receives credit for buying new equipment for its own center. The board passed a $1 million bond to upgrade its communication equipment.
“We need to be sure we are not wasting our taxpayers’ money and are getting a benefit of our equipment,” Quinn said. “We were assured we will get credit for all the equipment. It is compatible with what they are talking about.”
Kevin Moore, director of communications for the city, said consolidated dispatching will improve public safety and is the way to go. “It definitively improves the dispatch operations, which ultimately improves public safety,” he said.
Under the proposal, staff from dispatch centers in the city, Glenville and Rotterdam, Niskayuna would be centralized into a single facility, and over time staffing would be reduced to a proper level, said Niskayuna Supervisor Joe Landry. Staffing would go from 52 to 48 and lower over time.
“Right now there may be too many dispatchers and we will get to a proper number of dispatchers,” he said. One figure under consideration is a staff of 40.
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