Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra stood with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and fellow first selectmen from Ridgefield, Bethel, and Brookfield Tuesday as all five officials committed to studying a possible centralized emergency dispatch center serving the five communities.
Mrs Llodra, who has already voiced support for merging Newtown’s police, fire, and ambulance dispatching into a regionalized cooperative, told The Bee before an afternoon press conference at the Danbury Police Headquarters that if the five-town merger comes to fruition, it would be the first instance under a new Connecticut program that provides financial incentives to towns for regionalizing emergency, fire, and police dispatching services.
The Newtown Board of Selectmen recently received a report from local Emergency Communications Director Maureen Will, who conducted a subsidized study resulting in a recommendation for Newtown to consider merging dispatch duties with at least two other neighboring communities.
The February 7 recommendation suggested Newtown enter into a relationship with a regional emergency dispatch consortium in the short-run, and proposed the town initially explore the possibility of creating a regional dispatch facility here that would initially serve Newtown, Bethel, and Brookfield.
Ms Will said similar regional programs in other states have successfully assimilated all law enforcement, ambulance, and fire communications into large-scale call centers, and that in Connecticut, the movement has caught on particularly with fire and emergency medical communications.
The initiative was also described as a cost-saving and even a revenue-generating idea, because the state would pay Newtown or any community $250,000 to offset the cost of assigning its emergency dispatching to a regional center. The move would effectively cut Newtown’s current budget for the services by 80 percent — saving more than $600,000 annually, according to Ms Will.
Following the February meeting, Mrs Llodra expressed enthusiasm for the idea, saying the concept of regionalizing communications/dispatch is one that “Maureen and I have been exploring for many months.” And she added that the timeline for implementation could be expedited if more potential partners, particularly larger municipalities, came to the table ready and willing to join the regionalization effort.
Within a few days of Newtown’s announcement, Mrs Llodra said she corresponded with Mayor Boughton who was “extremely enthusiastic” about having Danbury involved in such a regional project. A new police facility in that city may already have the space and IT infrastructure required to house such a center.
A new feasibility study would examine whether all five town’s emergency and police dispatch functions could be provided by personnel through the Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communications Center (NWCPSCC) that is based in Prospect and is currently dispatching medical and/or fire calls for nine communities ranging in size from Naugatuck to Roxbury.
An opportunity also may exist for NWCPSCC personnel to perform their duties at a new western communications center at the Danbury police headquarters.
Mrs Llodra said ahead of the press conference that she wanted to be sure that all the communities involved in a new feasibility study share a common initiative.
“We are committed to participating in a feasibility study for the development of a regional dispatch center to serve dispatch for fire, ambulance, and police 911 services to our five communities,” Mrs Llodra said. “The study itself is not binding on any of the five municipalities; nor is there any commitment of funds to the study or any subsequent actions.”
Cost Savings Plus
Newtown’s first selectman said the merger of dispatching duties is not exclusively a cost-saving concern.
“We hope to determine if cost savings and other benefits can be achieved through regionalizing the dispatch function and, at the same time, maintain and/or improve the level of services currently provided at each local level,” she said.
Other benefits may include increased operational efficiencies; improved training opportunities; reduced cost of ownership and maintenance; and improved readiness for the state’s move toward Next Generation 911.
Mrs Llodra said a transition team made up of representatives from each community will meet to identify and address obstacles and opportunities. The transition team along with the heads of the municipalities will then establish definitions and procedures for financial aspects, and operational requirements.
She said 13 such meeting dates have been scheduled, the first of which occurred on March 20.
Mayor Boughton agreed with Mrs Llodra saying the goal is for a regional dispatch center to be operational in Danbury by January 1, 2012.
“Those municipalities from the study who ultimately determine to join the regional center will be brought into the center one by one throughout the following months,” Mrs Llodra said, adding that all or some of the five towns in the study could eventually join the regional center.
And if the study fails to demonstrate sufficient benefit to any or all the municipalities, no action may be taken.