Dispatch to Stay in Washington Township, Sobkowicz Says
The Washington Township Council voted in favor of pursuing a shared emergency dispatch service with Westwood, but Mayor Janet Sobkowicz said she would keep dispatching in the township.
The Washington Township Council voted 4-1 Monday to pursue a shared service with Westwood for emergency dispatching, but Mayor Janet Sobkowicz said she would not consent to the deal.
"We're going to stay in-house," Sobkowicz said.
Westwood officials had proposed they could host emergency dispatching for both towns in the Westwood Police Department at an average cost of $132,000 per year, plus some expenses for equipment upgrades.
As mayor, Sobkowicz is needed to sign any contracts the township enters. In the spring, she refused to sign a contract for shared dispatching with Bergen County after the council had voted in favor of that, too.
Some councilmen expressed frustration with Sobkowicz's veto power.
"There is absolutely no reason for us to sit here," Council Vice President Joseph D'Urso said. "You may as well be a dictator."
Sobkowicz presented a spreadsheet Monday which compared the costs of three dispatching options: shared with Bergen County, shared with Westwood and alone using full-time civilian dispatchers. According to the spreadsheet, which Sobkowicz worked on with Police Chief Randy Ciocco and other police officers, entering a shared service with Westwood would be the cheapest option, at about $279,000 the first year and $201,000 in subsequent years. Continuing alone with civilian dispatchers will cost about $292,000 the first year and $255,000 per year after.
"As far as I'm concerned, $50,000 is not a high price to pay for dispatching to stay here," Sobkowicz said.
Councilmen Steve Cascio and Fred Goetz questioned some of the estimated costs in the spreadsheet, including the price of equipment for a "safe room" that would be required if dispatching were moved out of the township because the police department would have to close at night.
"None of our numbers have been close," Goetz said. "I'm very skeptical of the numbers in the spreadsheet."
The estimated costs alone do not tell the whole story. Washington Township Fire Chief Jamie Powell said he was opposed to moving dispatching out of town because a central dispatch center may not be able to handle the increased amount of calls during large emergencies. During Hurricane Sandy, Powell said he had to turn off radio channels for Hillsdale and Westwood because there was too much activity.
"They were so inundated with calls that I couldn't hear my calls coming in," Powell said.
On the other hand, it may be harder to meet the estimated savings if the township keeps its own dispatching because civilian dispatchers have a high turnover rate, Council President Richard Hrbek previously told Patch. If there are no civilians to work the desk, more highly-paid police officers will have to fill in, as they currently do. Sobkowicz said dispatching currently costs the town about $489,000 per year.
After the council informally moved in favor of the Westwood plan last month, Westwood Mayor John Birkner said he hoped to have a shared dispatch service in place before the end of the year.
"We have a good proposal on the table," Birkner previously said.
Hrbek said he believed the shared service with Westwood could have saved more money, but any of the options would maintain the quality of existing dispatch service.
"I wouldn't be pursuing any of these if I felt they were in any way jeopardizing the services the residents of Washington Township have become accustomed to," Hrbek said.