2017-04-14 / Front Page

Councilors: Keep dispatch center

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow and Police Chief Robbie Moulton urged councilors to keep dispatch local instead of pursuing an opportunity for it to be handled at the Cumberland County Regional Communication Center in Windham. The chiefs cite local knowledge and a good working relationship with law enforcement and emergency responders as a reason to keep dispatch in Scarborough. (File photo) Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow and Police Chief Robbie Moulton urged councilors to keep dispatch local instead of pursuing an opportunity for it to be handled at the Cumberland County Regional Communication Center in Windham. The chiefs cite local knowledge and a good working relationship with law enforcement and emergency responders as a reason to keep dispatch in Scarborough. (File photo) The old idiom states ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself,’ and town councilors have opted to apply that concept to the town’s emergency dispatch services.

The town council held a workshop session last week to determine if the ad hoc public safety complex building committee should include space for dispatch in the new building or should the town opt to have dispatch handled by the Cumberland County Regional Communication Center in Windham.

“It’s a topic that has been broached before,” Town Council Chairman Shawn Babine said. “It’s more important now because we are talking about a new public safety building and this is a service that may be included in that.”

After hearing pleas to keep the dispatch as is from Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow and Police Chief Robbie Moulton, councilors decided, albeit informally, to keep dispatch in house.

“I am not telling you it can’t be done. There are hundreds of models across the country that prove it can. Neither one of us are telling you it can’t be done, but it’s not the level of service you get when you have your own center,” Moulton said, adding his comments should not be seen as an indictment of the type of service the Cumberland County Regional Communication Center (CCRCC) provides.

Vice Chairman Kate St. Clair said the dispatch center, which is located at the Scarborough Public Safety Building, being just steps away from the police station and Scarborough’s Oak Hill fire station creates a bond between dispatchers and police officers and firefighters.

“I can’t imagine taking dispatch out of Scarborough. Personally I think it would be irresponsible to the residents to do that,” said St. Clair, a member of the public safety complex building committee.

Thurlow said Scarborough was one of the first communities in the state to created a combined (fire, police and emergency medical assistance) dispatch centers in 1972. While other communities have opted to go with regional dispatch centers or contract the duties with a nearby community, Scarborough has maintained its own dispatch center, something that Thurlow and Moulton said results in better service for residents.

“Local knowledge is really a key aspect,” Thurlow said, adding a municipal dispatch center like Scarborough’s reduces the confusion that can exist at a regional center, which is providing dispatch services for communities that have the same, or similar sounding street names, which can cause delayed response.

In fact, three of Scarborough’s dispatchers, Eric Berry, Arthur Green and Greg Tinsman, have a combined 106 years of dispatching experience.

Thurlow and Moulton maintain it is important that dispatchers have a presence in the public safety building because they are trained to deal with members of the public who come to the station seeking help for domestic violence, medical issues, drug addition through Operation HOPE (Heroin and Opiate Prevention Efforts) and serve as the first line of communication the public has with the public safety departments.

“I know some communities that have gone with regional dispatch have struggled with that,” Thurlow said of maintaining a physical presence at the station. “In a lot of cases, it is dealt with using a video camera and a phone.”

“To me a presence in the building is huge. We just placed our 257th person with Operation HOPE. 500 people came to the doors for help. When they come through those doors, they need someone to be there,” Moulton said.

Making the switch would also mean the police, fire and EMS department would have to convert electronic records to the system CCRC uses, which Moulton called an “arduous task.” Thurlow said the town has, over the years, invested in video surveillance at the schools and in public buildings, something that wouldn’t be checked or monitored as much through the regional dispatch approach.

Switching to dispatch would be a cheaper option, but only by a matter of roughly $9,500. The first year of the proposed CCRCC contract would be $420,894 for the first year and increase by 3 percent the next two years.

That contract would not provide any physical presence in the existing dispatch area. The cost of having some sort of presence would range from $165,040 for a day and evening receptionist to $321,677 for 24-hour coverage. In order to provide level services, the CCRCC contract plus a 24-hour receptionist would cost $695,961, $22,678 less than the $718,639 that has been proposed for dispatch as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget.

At least $13,200 would be needed, Moulton said, to run fiber connection between Scarborough and Windham, which would reduce the potential savings to just under $9,478.

Councilor Bill Donovan said the cost savings comes out as a wash.

“It looks like it’d be a severe degradation of services if we were to go with the county,” he said.

Similarly Councilor Will Rowan said making the switch “doesn’t make financial sense.”

“I’d have to see significant financial savings ... in order for it to make sense. It makes no sense,” Councilor Katy Foley said.

Councilor Peter Hayes said not including dispatch in the new public safety building could cut $389,000 off the anticipated $13.5 million to $15.5 million cost, but agreed with his colleagues in not pursuing the county dispatch option. He would, however, be interested in getting a better handle on the construction costs of the new building.

St. Clair is unwavering in her distain for farming out dispatch.

“There is no money value that could get me to get rid of dispatch. That is how strong my connection with dispatch is,” she said.

Babine said he intends to honor a commitment he made during his first tenure on the council 2002 to maintain a local dispatch center.

In recent years, Scarborough’s dispatch center has begun to take on dispatch services for the town of Old Orchard Beach and for years has answered 911 calls for Buxton. Town Manager Hall said a number of communities, including Hollis and Buxton, have inquired about having Scarborough handle dispatch calls.

Thurlow said the intent is not to become the Walmart of dispatch centers. The 36-by-36-foot dispatch center in the new public safety building is being designed to meet current demands and accommodate six dispatch stations.

The public safety complex building committee was scheduled to meet April 12 to review the fourth draft of the space needs analysis, present site plan options and design concepts, among other items.

The group next meets on April 26. The site on Route 1 between town hall and the Sparkle Clean Car Wash near Sawyer Road is the preferred location for the new building.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com

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