Town, Village May Share Emergency Dispatching

East Hampton Town and Village stand to save a combined $600,000 if an initial cost savings analysis about consolidating 911 dispatching services rings true.

That is why the municipalities are hoping to receive a $25,000 matching grant from the Local Government Efficiency program to help fund a more in-depth study, which will consider operational and cost impacts. The study is expected to cost between $50,000 and $90,000.

The East Hampton Village and East Hampton Town have two separate Emergency Communications Departments that provide 911 dispatching for several agencies.

By consolidating village and town dispatch services, there is a potential to eliminate duplicative public safety expenditures, translating to savings that will benefit taxpayers, according to the application for the grant, which was submitted last week.

The concept is nothing new, and was one that East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell raised during his campaign last year. “The town and the village have had discussions about this for a couple of years now on and off with chiefs of police, mayors, and supervisors,” said Mr. Cantwell, who served as the village administrator for more than 30 years before running for town supervisor. “To some extent, talks stalled because of legitimate issues that have been raised. . . . The thought process is that we could combine these two units and lower our benefit and labor cost, but there are these technological issues we have to analyze,” he said.

At village headquarters, public safety dispatchers answer calls for an 83-square-mile area. The East Hampton and Sag Harbor Village Police Departments, as well as the East Hampton, Amagansett, Montauk, Springs, and Sag Harbor Fire Departments, the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and East Hampton Village Ambulance Association contract with the department for services. There are 16 dispatchers, assigned to five squads with a minimum staffing of 3 dispatchers on two daytime shifts and 2 dispatchers on the midnight shift.

All 911 calls made within the town are routed to the village. If the caller is outside East Hampton or Sag Harbor Village or not in need of fire or emergency medical services, the call is transferred to the town dispatchers. To avoid delays in the event of an emergency, village dispatchers radio over to the town dispatchers, while keeping the caller on the line.

In 2013, the village dispatched 22,609 fire, E.M.S., and police calls, but answered 65,583 telephone calls and 16,276 from 911. Meanwhile, the town, which only dispatches for the town police in its 67.7-square-mile jurisdiction, answered 5,818 calls from  911 and 56,134 telephone calls total last year. It has 12 personnel with similar-staffed shifts.

Financial savings would be realized several ways, the biggest of which would be personnel. Also, the duplication of training would be eliminated, as would future technology upgrades, repairs, and maintenance for one of the two facilities, and utilities, telephone, and technology costs would be consolidated.

“The issue is about much more than simple dollars and cents, or number of employees. Both agencies have heavy investments in infrastructure, personnel, and support services provided by dispatchers that can’t be measured by simple math,” Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said. “Our public safety dispatchers are an integral part of both the Town and Village Police Departments. A study to determine overall impacts to operations for each agency is key to determining the feasibility of any consolidation.”

The chief, who oversees the town dispatchers, said he recognizes the public safety dispatch team “for the outstanding and dedicated service they perform under a great deal of pressure, particularly in the summer months.”

 “Given the financial climate, and the challenges facing all the municipalities in the budgeting for public safety, creative funding opportunities such as shared services will continue to be researched,” he said.

The town and village will commit up to $39,250 in matching funding each for the cost of the project.

In addition to the cost of the study, outside legal counsel from Vincent Toomey, Esq., to review the union contracts for the town and village dispatchers will total $13,500.

Due to the timeline for the state grant, the study will not likely begin until June 2015. The project would be completed by the end of October 2015.

Service consolidation is being considered at all levels of government. Town officials, in particular, have been looking for ways to cut costs following the town’s financial difficulties. The village and town are embarking on the construction of a joint fuel facility after receiving a similar grant last year.

While the village has had good fiscal health, the dispatching operation has seen escalating costs, including overtime, “straining its budgets as well as those of the outlying districts it services,” the application states. The village is hoping that the cost savings realized through consolidating dispatching services will offset cost increases in other public safety areas, such as the paid first-responder program instituted in 2014, for which the village anticipates paying $35,000 this summer alone.

Correction: Vincent Toomey, Esq., will be hired to provide legal advice, not Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin and Quartararo, as was initially reported in the draft application.