Bridgton dispatching service options

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz is recommending to the Bridgton Board of Selectmen that voters should decide, via a referendum vote in June, the issue of whether or not the town retains its own dispatching service or switches over to the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center.

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen will discuss options for dispatching services, when they next meet on Feb. 8, 2011.

A report prepared for the town last year by Public Safety Strategies Group out of Massachusetts concluded that the town could save roughly $140,000 per year, by changing from the local dispatching service to the one operated by Cumberland County.

However, according to Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, should the town choose to change from Bridgton Dispatch to the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center, the first year savings would total about $40,000 “which continues to grow in years two and three to about $125,000 and leveling off at that point. This is based upon current costs for both services and adding a full time administrative position to service weekday public safety support,” the town manager stated.

“Some of these savings could be invested in the upgrading of our transmitter and repeater capabilities, mobile data terminals for police cruisers and fire trucks and for a fulltime administrative support position to work for both Police and Fire,” wrote Berkowitz. “I did talk with representatives from Gray, Gorham and Standish and was informed that their overall satisfaction with time responses (from the CCRCC) was well within acceptable ranges. They also indicated that transmission quality was good.”

Berkowitz has prepared a “Comparison of Dispatching Services” packet that shows the differences between Bridgton Dispatch and the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center (CCRCC) which he said “attempts to accomplish several goals.”

“In reviewing this possible change I am aware that the town may lose what is considered a ‘tailored’ service for a standardized service which would rely upon technology and different people to ‘locate and dispatch’ all calls for services,” stated Berkowitz, in the “Conclusions” section of his comparison document. “The contemplation of this change coupled with the loss of local jobs makes such a decision a difficult one though very important.”

“Such a change could impact both future budgets as well as the ability of the Bridgton Police Department to improve its service mission,” Berkowitz said further. “Given the importance of this issue, I am recommending to the Selectmen that the question be placed on the June 2011 referendum ballot for our voters to decide.”

Methodology used to prepare comparison report

The goals the town manager’s comparison document seeks to accomplish are:

• Provide a quick summary and understanding of the comparison;

• Provide an in depth record of information pertaining to this comparison; and

• Draw attention to how this review and comparison was conducted “allowing for the selectmen and citizens to draw their own conclusions regarding the two alternatives this comparison focuses on.”

The town manager said the comparison utilizes a simple approach based upon current costs and was developed based “on several assumptions”:

• Future year costs for either service increase about 3% per year;

• The primary costs are personnel driven;

• The addition of any capital equipment beyond what is needed to simply continue dispatching at the current levels are not factored into the comparisons though they are mentioned;

• Regardless of which service is used, the standards the town should be using as a measure are generally available with both services.

“The differences, however subtle, will be argued by either side long after any decisions are made,” Berkowitz wrote in his comparison document. “For this comparison I reviewed the following areas: General time responses; quality of radio transmissions; other users with CCRCC; problems that were raised during this comparison and how they were addressed by the parties; and records management, recording and reporting.”

“In general I simply asked, ‘Would the citizens of Bridgton be as equally served by either (dispatching) service,” stated Berkowitz. “My conclusions were generally ‘yes’, so long as it is understood that our current system of records management, recording and reporting has a greater amount of improvement, training and utilization for that to better serve our citizens and the police department. With that being said, the focus then went to the issue of cost.”

The town manager explained in his “Review of Dispatching Services Comparison” that the executive summary spread sheets contain the “core of information” regarding personnel training, service parameters, equipment, and that cost shifts back to the Bridgton Police Department were included.

Personnel — Berkowitz said the County’s proposal “takes full advantage of the fact that they operate with a minimum of four dispatchers on at all times while Bridgton uses one with a possible call in if events warrant.” He said, “This becomes a time factor for response.” Furthermore, the town manager said, “The County contract in Year I is $92,261 while current dispatching costs are $283,489 before any cost shifts. That is a gross savings of about $191,000.”

Training — “Ongoing training is essential,” stated Berkowitz. “Retaining the current dispatch would require an annual cost of about $2,400 while the County’s lump sum contract includes that.”

Equipment — The town manager said he compared “what costs the town might face if we were to retain current dispatching services. “It presumes that Bridgton would want to upgrade its console and dispatch area as well as our full transmitter capabilities,” he said. “However, this cost is not included in the bottom line of the comparison since we could continue to function simply with the equipment we have until it no longer is repairable or upgradeable.”

Cost Shift to the Police Department — There would be some costs shifted to the Police Department budget such as telephone service and the like, according to Berkowitz. Also included would be unemployment compensation exposures, the new administrative support position and holding cell supervision costs as well as a loss of alarm system revenues.

Unknown Policy Issues — This part of the comparison, according to Berkowitz, identifies “that the current alarm monitoring services would no longer be provided and would have to be privatized.” The town manager pointed out that the selectmen “will have to further discuss the impacts to this group of citizens.”

“Also stated in the spread sheet would be the upgrading of mobile data terminals regardless of which dispatch services provider is used,” Berkowitz said. “It is long overdue. The final costs would be a budgetary item supported by any grants obtained. These numbers are not included in the cost comparison since they do not have to be incurred at all if we maintained the current level of dispatching service.”

The town manager pointed out that a microwave upgrade is also excluded from the cost comparisons “since it is not a requirement for either service provider.”

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