Colchester and South Burlington will begin joint dispatch operations at the Colchester Police Department starting July 1, town manager Aaron Frank told the selectboard last week.
When they merge, a total of 12 dispatchers will operate the system for the two towns at the Blakely Rd. station. The pilot consolidation was supposed to include Milton, which contracts Colchester for the service, but Milton instead chose to dispatch through St. Albans next fiscal year. The shift saves $39,000, town manager Don Turner said.
The Colchester-South Burlington merger is a first step toward the newly formed Chittenden County Public Safety Authority to provide regional dispatch services to the area, Frank said. The ultimate goal is having all six towns in the CCPSA — Colchester, Burlington, Milton, South Burlington, Williston and Winooski — operate a combined regional dispatch service under one roof, he said.
CCPSA was formed after voters from the six towns approved the concept on last year’s Town Meeting ballots. Shelburne was also originally included, but voters there shot down the ballot measure in 2018.
Frank said regional dispatch will streamline emergency call management and make service more efficient. The status quo of each town operating its own dispatch center has its drawbacks with the limited number of dispatchers.
“If you have two emergencies come in at the same time, it’s only one person, alone, answering the phone,” Frank said. “They might have to take one call, put on hold, and get back to it, and that’s not really what you want.”
A regional dispatch center with multiple dispatchers working at once can prevent these overlaps, he said.
In November, CCPSA entered into a contract with IXP Corporation, a New Jersey dispatch management company, to work on cost estimates and transitional work for the group. Milton was excluded from the estimates because the selectboard declined to budget the $10,000 required for the study, Milton selectboard chairman Darren Adams said.
“We didn’t want to commit to that unbudgeted amount,” he explained. “We also knew at that time we would be doing at least one year with St. Albans, and we just needed to pause and figure out exactly what is going to happen.”
He said for now, Milton will remain a part of the CCPSA as it continues to look into their options.
If the regional authority hires IXP to manage its regional dispatch services, it could cost $290,000 a year for the first two years and $220,000 each year after. Frank said this would save the group about $100,000 a year in management costs: The five CCPSA communities included in the IXP study currently spend a combined $400,000 a year by having local police chiefs and officers manage dispatch operations.
An external manager will free up local police chiefs and officers for other duties, Frank said.
The consultant is also working with CCPSA to determine operating, capital and labor costs and to transition local costs into a regional system.
Frank said Vermont’s E-911 board has allowed CCPSA to become a public safety answering point, or PSAP, but required the group to operate first as a regional dispatch service. Once the group becomes a PSAP, it will be eligible for about $175,000 in annual grant funding from the E-911 board, he said.
Frank’s memo to the selectboard said regional dispatch cannot begin until the Colchester Selectboard and at least one other CCPSA community formally agree to the cost allocations created by the group.
Ultimately, CCPSA’s goal is to provide better service for a similar cost, Frank said. Creating one PSAP as opposed to multiple dispatch centers across communities will help reduce the 71-second delay that currently exists for emergency services.
“Combining these locations and functions is the quickest and most cost effective way to get fire, police or emergency medical service to people in need quicker,” he wrote in an email to the Sun.