The Chittenden County Public Safety Authority (CCPSA) Regional Dispatch Center could be moving into the same building as the South Burlington Police Department. But first, details about regional dispatch funding must be finalized.
The second floor of the Robert E. Miller Building – which houses the South Burlington Police Department on its first floor – has been scoped out as prime real estate for the regional dispatch center. Over a year ago the six municipalities – South Burlington, Burlington, Colchester, Milton, Williston and Winooski – involved in CCPSA signed a lease option with REM Development to hold the space vacant with the possibility of regional dispatch moving in, according to CCPSA Vice Chair and South Burlington City Manager Kevin Dorn. They recently renewed the lease option for $5,000.
“We looked at their standards and requirements for [regional dispatch] facilities and looked around at some available real estate … and kind of found that the site was pretty ideal,” CCPSA Chair and Colchester Town Manager Aaron Frank said.
Why regional dispatch?
Talk of forming a regional dispatch center began in the 1960s, according to the CCPSA website. In the 1990s and early 2000s there were starts and stops with efforts to fund and plan the operation, but in 2016 the ball was set in motion once more. A 2016 study used findings from two previous studies to evaluate the government and technical demands of sharing dispatch among several municipalities. The public vote, in 2018, passed the formation of CCPSA and its regional dispatch center with all but one involved community – Shelburne – opting in. Shelburne has been dispatching for other communities – including its neighbor, Hinesburg – since the 1990s.
Regional dispatch is meant to shorten incident response time. Instead of sending calls to a 911 dispatch center and then to a local dispatcher, they’d go directly to regional dispatch center and the appropriate responders would be deployed. Regional dispatch can shave an average of 71 seconds off response time, according to the CCPSA website.
It’s also better for dispatchers, Dorn said. With the regional dispatch model, multiple dispatchers work in the center simultaneously, meaning they have back up if calls build up. Plus, it makes scheduling around planned and unplanned absences easier.
“It’s going to save time, it’s going to save lives,” Dorn said.
A new home in the Robert E. Miller Building?
The second floor of Robert E. Miller building is about 1,000 square feet and would accommodate the dispatcher work area, kitchen space, bathrooms, office space and training facility needed for regional dispatch, Dorn said. “We think that the space that is available there accommodates all that, including the growth potential,” he added.
Other benefits include ample parking, a backup generator and infrastructure like cable and copper wires to support dispatch equipment, Frank said. Plus, it’s close to the police department.
According to Dorn, the CCPSA is not considering other venues at this time.
“We’ve analyzed this thing, and our consultants have looked at it,” he said. “Unless there’s some kind of show stopper that nobody is aware of, this is the designated place – we’re not looking for other spaces.”
REM Development and CCPSA are still negotiating the rent, but should the center find its home there, the lease option fee they paid could be applied to it, Frank said.
But before a center can be formed, the selectboards and city councils of the involved municipalities must agree upon how to pay for the program.
The agreement voters approved in 2018 uses “calls for service” as the metric for each municipality’s portion of the bill, Frank said. Calls for service include any incident in which a police officer, firefighter or Emergency Medical Service worker responds, or when law enforcers initiate their own calls. According to Frank, the six municipalities get about 100,000 calls for service annually. South Burlington accounts for about 18,000 of those, he said. Based on the proposed payment method, South Burlington could expect to pay about 18 percent of CCPSA costs.
Calls for service generally remain consistent from year to year, Frank said. But even with a spike in calls, communities could anticipate their CCPSA bill would remain relatively flat due to a three-year rolling average.
“If you had a peak in one year that effect would get muted as far as the financial effect,” Frank said. “The funding will be reasonably stable because of this rolling average funding mechanism.”
What happens to the current dispatchers?
All full-time dispatchers employed by the six municipalities can keep their posts, should they choose to accept CCPSA as their employer.
“Essentially we promised anybody that currently has a full-time job in dispatch in the communities that go to regional that they would have a job at regional,” Frank said. “We value the dispatchers doing this work now. We want them, we need them to continue this work, just in a different setting.”