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It’s worth $100,000 more per year to save lives and property

Council approves police dispatch Consolidation

In a special meeting on May 1, it took just one minute and forty seconds for council to pass a resolution authorizing Town Manager Val Foulds to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Westmoreland County and The Town of Colonial Beach concerning Colonial Beach Police Department (CBPD) dispatch services.

After reading the resolution and asking for comments from the council, Mayor Mike Ham told the public, “This is something the town has been working on for a while. I think it will improve services, as well as save the town some money.”

No one can dispute that consolidation could save property and lives, but officials really haven’t looked at all the expenses involved—leaving many unanswered questions.

Since January, the town council has held several long work sessions. Each month the council has averaged one eight-hour work session spread over a two-day period. Many detailed discussions have taken place on many subjects, but only presentations on the matter of police dispatch consolidation have been heard. Costs have not been discussed in much detail by council members (at council meetings). An estimate was provided by Westmoreland County Administrator Norm Rasavi. This estimate was presented to council by Town Manager Val Foulds, but no serious discussions have taken place comparing the present costs for dispatch and the projected cost amounts if provided by Westmoreland County.

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the Journal has obtained the current cost to the town to provide police dispatch services. The town currently pays $171,905, and the MOU states that the county will charge Colonial Beach $270,114.03 for the services for the upcoming fiscal year.

In the estimate from County Administrator Norm Rasavi the cost estimate for dispatch salaries to cover the extra workload was estimated at $161,000.

Also in Rasavi’s cost estimate, he tells Foulds that the town will also pay Westmoreland County 20% of operational costs. Foulds explained that the operational costs are for equipment, Verizon services, and other overhead. However, CB town officials cannot seem to agree on the town’s current overhead costs, making it difficult to really determine if the town will be saving money by consolidating the dispatch services.

The council’s first mention of police dispatch consolidation came at the January 28 work session when council invited Westmoreland County Sheriff C.O. Balderson to discuss the matter of consolidation.

Balderson offered two reasons for consolidating dispatch—public safety and cost. Balderson believed that the town would see a savings, but urged council members to look closely at the cost in detail.  

How consolidation could save lives and property

At the Jan. 28 work session, Balderson assured the group that he is not trying to take over the town’s public safety sector, but merely to respond to the town’s request for information.

Balderson touched on two points- public safety and cost.

Balderson said that public safety can be affected by the redundancy of callers having to explain their emergency to multiple agencies, “There is a duplication that takes place,” he said.

When a 911-call is made from a cell phone in Colonial Beach, the call is routed to the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Landline 911-calls are received by CBPD.

Fire and Rescue services for Colonial Beach are currently dispatched from WCSO, and Colonial Beach Police are dispatched from CBPD.

If an emergency call for fire or rescue is made from a landline in Colonial Beach, the caller has to first give a brief description of the emergency to a dispatcher at CBPD, then repeat the process to a dispatcher at WCSO.

Likewise, if a call for police services in Colonial Beach comes from a cell phone, the caller will reach WCSO first, and will be required to give details to them, before being routed back to CBPD, and have to repeat the information.

Balderson explained that no matter which dispatch office receives the call first, each office must obtain some information to determine which agency needs to be dispatched, and in case the call is lost or ended during the emergency.

This redundancy takes valuable time away from responders, which could make a difference in property and/or lives saved.

“To some people five or six seconds may not mean a whole lot, but when you have a house on fire or a critical emergency such as a heart attack, every second counts,” Balderson said.

Cost to the town
At the January meeting Balderson didn’t want to be presumptuous and give exact figures. He only wanted show that there could be a savings. “I’m not going to tell you how much you can or cannot save. I’ve talked to Motorola. I’ve also been in contact with the County Administrator [Norm Rasavi]. Basically, on the equipment itself, maintenance, and service contracts you’re going to see a savings.”

Balderson suggested that the town and county compare costs in detail.

“I offer this as an alternative. I’m going to support you and Chief Seay. I’m here for you, either way you want to go,” Balderson added.

Balderson believes that the radio dispatch system in Colonial Beach is becoming obsolete, and he reminded the council that repair costs go up all the time due to a lack of replacement parts.

Interim CBPD Chief William Seay said at the January meeting that he had not explored all the costs involved, but he feels that consolidating would save money. He suggested that the council compare the current system in Colonial Beach to Westmoreland County’s, then look at King George’s state-of-the-art system.

Currently, including salaries, Medicare, life and medical insurances, retirement and unemployment insurance, the Town of Colonial Beach pays four full-time and two part-time dispatchers a total of  $171,905 yearly.
In the MOU, Westmoreland County agrees to provide the town with an estimated annual budget cost no later than April 1, prior to the next upcoming fiscal year, but the county has estimated the cost for dispatch services for fiscal year 2013-2014 to be $270,114.03, almost $100,000 more than what Colonial Beach now spends. In providing an annual budget cos,t the contract refers to an attachment which was not provided at the May 1 meeting with the MOU.

Foulds said that the referred to attachment is a letter from County Administrator Norm Rasavi to her.

In that letter from Rasavi to Town Manager Val foulds dated Feb. 20, Rasavi stated, “The Sheriff believes it will be necessary to add the four full-time positions currently staffed by the Town and one part-time position to his operation. He has calculated that estimated cost to be $162,060. This figure is probably more than the actual cost since he has taken the worst case scenario in assuming all four positions will take full family-coverage health insurance.”

The MOU, prepared by Westmoreland County, does not include how many positions will be added, in the body of the agreement.

In a phone interview Foulds said, “The overhead costs [for Colonial Beach] comes in the way of upgraded equipment. The truth is nobody knows. That’s the bottom line.”

Foulds said that CBPD officials say the equipment is old and needs to be replaced. Foulds estimates the replacement costs to be between $150,000 and $152,000.

In a recent written estimate provided to the town, Interim CBPD Chief William Seay estimates the replacement costs could reach as high as $200,000. Seay’s estimate breaks down individual equipment replacement; $51,000 for communication specialist (Motorola) upgrades, $12,000 for a Dictaphone recorder, and $100,000 for the replacement of a new compatible system in sync with WCSO. Seay said in his estimate that other costs should be given consideration, such as tower, computers and alley screens, but had no estimates on these components.

The Chief’s estimate covers the cost of replacing all of the old equipment, but doesn’t really show the current cost of overhead spent now for Verizon services. The building rent will not change if dispatch is moved.  

CBPD originally talked about hiring a full-time receptionist who would be at the station for walk-ins and to answer non-emergency calls. However in a phone interview on Tuesday, Interim Chief Seay said that there would be a phone placed outside the police department for people to use in emergencies. The phone will go directly to dispatch at WCSO.

According to the MOU, Westmoreland County will provide all dispatch services for Colonial Beach, including CB Public Works after hours (now handled by CBPD), as well as handle non-emergency calls to CBPD after hours (if/when there is no receptionist at CBPD).

WCSO currently provides, and will continue to provide, dispatch services for both the Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad.

In his presentation to the council, Sherriff C.O. Balderson invited current dispatchers from CBPD to apply for the new positions when they are posted. Seay said that the dispatchers were notified, and they have all applied to WCSO, and have signed for receipt of applications.

Consolidation will take place on July 1, right before the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Seay said that CBPD will keep citizens and the press updated as changes occur.

Linda Farneth

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