Uniting the county’s dispatchers under one roof has been anything but fast and efficient.
But once all of the separate dispatch centers are combined in a newly constructed building on Hamburg Street in Rotterdam, officials say the result will be a faster, more efficient operation.
The long-discussed consolidation effort — which was awarded a $1 million state grant in 2009 — will start to be realized when eight Niskayuna dispatchers move into the new center around May 12.
“It’s a good project,” Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said. “It’s taken a long time to make happen, but it benefits everybody within the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County.”
The plan is for a new batch of dispatchers to move in each week, with Glenville moving in after Niskayuna, followed by Schenectady and finally Rotterdam, said Joe McQueen, Schenectady County spokesman. That will bring the dispatching services of 25 fire departments, seven police agencies and three emergency medical services into one facility, including the departments of Duanesburg and Princetown that contract with Rotterdam for the service.
The schedule is subject to change to ensure that “everything rolls out as smoothly as possible,” McQueen said.
“The building itself is completed, and now they’re in the process of moving in the technology, moving in the call center — the boards, the phones, the furniture — making the connections, testing the calls coming in and going out to the police and fire departments,” he said.
McCarthy said he is confident that the process of transferring dispatchers to the new center won’t have a negative effect on emergency services in Schenectady. The city accounts for nearly 75 percent of the county’s emergency calls.
“I expect to have a seamless transition so that individuals dialing 911 will notice no difference in terms of our response,” McCarthy said.
The center will be directed by Jeffrey Cunningham, a retired Albany police officer who will earn an annual salary of $88,000.
The $2.87 million budget to operate what is being called the Unified Communication Center from May 1 through Dec. 31 was approved without discussion by the Schenectady County Legislature Tuesday night.
The new center will take on all dispatchers now employed with the various municipalities, and will be staffed by 46 dispatchers and one clerk.
The county signed a lease to rent the Hamburg Street building for $309,252 over 20 years. The center’s equipment, tower and microwave infrastructure connecting the various public-safety access points will cost approximately $1.9 million, which will be covered by the $1 million state Department of State grant, an estimated $450,000 in other grant funding and about $450,000 in county dollars.
The move will produce an estimated annual savings of about $673,000: $245,852 for Schenectady, $149,509 for Glenville, $101,615 for Niskayuna and $176,657 for Rotterdam.
Schenectady could see even more savings, as it plans to move traffic division employees now working in a building on Albany Street into the portion of the Police Department on Liberty Street now used for dispatching. The city plans to then sell the Albany Street building, which cost nearly $2,000 per month to heat, maintain and cool, McCarthy said.
Rotterdam Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi said the move “brings in high degrees of efficiency for the county.”
“I think it transfers a function into a centralized place were it can be more easily achieved by one or two experts,” he said. “There can’t be five or six or seven experts.”
It will also allow for easier communications among police and fire departments during cross-county police chases and fires that call for mutual aid, McQueen said.
Niskayuna Town Supervisor Joe Landry called the move a “very good consolidation.”
“I think this will continue to provide savings for the municipalities and I think that this is something that will enhance our services,” he said.
Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle wasn’t as optimistic.
“Operationally, it’s going to impact our town because our dispatchers did so much more than just answer a call,” he said. “They did a lot of administrative tasks for both the police department and the court that we have here in the town. There’s going to be significant issues related to delivering services in that regard for the municipalities.”
Koetzle said the town is considering introducing an electronic kiosk that would cover some of those functions such as providing residents with police and accident reports.
Koetzle cast the sole no vote on the budget when it went before the Municipal Oversight Committee — consisting of representatives from each of the municipalities and led by county Legislator Rory Fluman — last month.
Koetzle said he was concerned that the county has yet to finalize a contract with the union that will represent the dispatch workers when they become county employees. He questioned the projected savings for the towns, since the employees’ wages and benefits would be tied to the union contract.
“There’s still a lot unseen yet,” he said.
McQueen said the employees would continue to work under the conditions of their separate labor union contracts until a new contract for all county dispatch workers is reached. He said members of the oversight committee have been made aware that the contract might not be in place by the time the dispatch center opens.
“The negotiations are still ongoing,” he said.