2014-04-11 / In the News

Scarborough, OOB in dispatch talks

Town councils will review proposal for Scarborough to take on added duties
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Scarborough dispatchers Joe Thornton, left, and Arthur Green field emergency calls in the Scarborough Public Safety building Thursday, April 3. Scarborough officials are in talks with counterparts in Old Orchard Beach about a proposal for Scarborough to manage Old Orchard Beach’s public safety dispatch services. (Michael Kelley photo) Scarborough dispatchers Joe Thornton, left, and Arthur Green field emergency calls in the Scarborough Public Safety building Thursday, April 3. Scarborough officials are in talks with counterparts in Old Orchard Beach about a proposal for Scarborough to manage Old Orchard Beach’s public safety dispatch services. (Michael Kelley photo) The Scarborough Public Safety dispatch center could get some additional help answering emergency calls in town, if Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough come to terms on a plan for Scarborough to take over the management of public safety dispatch services for its neighbor to the south.

The two towns are in discussion now about the possibility of outsourcing Old Orchard Beach dispatch to Scarborough. To do that, three new dispatchers would need to be hired, a cost for which Old Orchard Beach would be responsible.

Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton said if the plan does materialize, it would create space constraints at the dispatch center.

“We have asked for a capital improvement renovation to our facility. It’s just a matter of taking down a couple of walls,” he told members of the Scarborough Town Council’s finance committee Tuesday, April 1. The file storage room would be eliminated to make way for two more dispatch stations. The files, as well as employee mailboxes in the room, would be relocated to a different area of the public safety building.

Moulton said while the plan would cause a need for renovation, it would also help dispatchers keep up with the volume of calls that come in. Aside from calls within town, Scarborough dispatchers also serve as the public safety answering point for the town of Buxton.

“We were going to have to increase our staffing levels in the future … because of our calls for service and other calls coming in.” Moulton told the Leader Thursday, April 3. “This is going to take the pressure off the need for expansion.”

He said the additional hires would give public safety officials some flexibility in staffing the dispatch center at peak times, such as the summer months.

The majority of Scarborough’s cost for startup, which includes the $35,000 renovation project, would be reimbursable by Old Orchard Beach. The total personnel cost for Old Orchard Beach would be slightly less than $306,000 a year.

Both the Town Councils in Scarborough and Old Orchard Beach will review the possibility during their respective budget process. Old Orchard Police Chief Dana Kelley said the dispatch proposal was expected to be part of a public safety budget presentation before the Old Orchard Beach Finance Committee, Wednesday, April 9, after the Leader’s deadline.

Town Manager Tom Hall said he and public safety officials are paying close attention to how Old Orchard Beach handles the situation.

“Obviously if they are not interested in paying the costs, this will not go forward,” he told Finance Committee members.

Old Orchard Beach originally approached Scarborough in 2010 about consolidating dispatch duties, but ultimately decided to enter into a five-year contract with the Sanford Regional Communications Center.

“We are getting to the end of that contract and we wanted to review the cost of dispatch to see if there were other communities — Scarborough being the closest and one we are familiar with — and see if there were any savings by possibly moving there,” said Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director John Glass.

Old Orchard Beach decided to move its dispatch to Sanford in 2010 because the state began pushing for a more regionalized approach to dispatch services.

“They started pushing that, so that’s when we started talking with Sanford. We were looking at the extremely high cost of dispatch. You take the expense, the cost of personnel and the cost of upgrading the systems, it was really expensive for Old Orchard Beach to be a dispatch center at the time,” Glass said.

Glass said when someone in Old Orchard Beach calls 911 with an emergency, it is answered by a dispatcher in Sanford.

The dispatcher takes down the information about the emergency and relays it back to Old Orchard Beach, either by radio or telephone, where responders are put into action.

“The response is from Old Orchard Beach even through the actual call is answered by a dispatcher in Sanford and the information comes from Sanford,” Glass said.

Old Orchard Beach is not the only community the Sanford Regional Communication Center fields dispatch calls for. The center also serves Acton, Arundel, Kennebunk, Lebanon, Limerick, Hollis, Newfield, North Berwick, Springvale, Shapleigh and Waterboro, as well as the York County Sheriff’s Department and York County Emergency Management Agency.

Glass said moving dispatch to Sanford has not made a discernable difference in response time.

“As long as everything works right, the call doesn’t get delayed and Sanford turns around and gives us the proper information, we’ve seen no increase in response time,” Glass said, adding problems arise, and arose when Old Orchard Beach handled its own dispatch, when wrong information, such as the location of an emergency, was passed along to the dispatcher and, in turn, the emergency responders.

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