Westwood, Washington Twp. Pursuing Shared Dispatch
Officials from both towns said they are getting close to reaching a shared service agreement for emergency dispatching.
Officials are examining a plan to have Westwood perform emergency dispatching for Washington Township, though the plan may result in the township's police department being closed at night.
Under the plan, emergency dispatching for both towns would be done by a team of four full-time civilian dispatchers, with some per diem dispatchers as needed. Washington Township has been increasing the use civilians, but still has police officers cover their dispatch desk at more expensive rates than civilians in some shifts.
The plan addresses some concerns about other shared dispatching services. Township officials had previously considered joining Bergen County's dispatching in Mahwah, but many local emergency responders spoke against the plan because the county's dispatchers are not as familiar with the area as locals. Mayor Janet Sobkowicz said she would not sign a contract with the county.
"The county is in a lot of turmoil," Sobkowicz said Monday.
Dispatchers in Westwood ride with police to learn the streets and local landmarks as a part of their training. Officials also said that new hires for the combined dispatch could come from the civilians currently used part time in Washington Township.
Westwood Mayor John Birkner said operating one dispatch center instead of two would be more fiscally efficient. Tests done between the towns prove the plan could work, he said.
"I believe there will actually be an increase in the level of service," Birkner said, noting that borough and township emergency responders already frequently work together.
Westwood dispatching still creates a potential problem for the Washington Township Police Department, which may need to be closed at night for town to save money on the plan and fewer police officers may work on each shift.
Councilman Fred Goetz said he was skeptical about savings and that they would need to figure out a definite plan for reducing personnel costs, whether by reducing the size of the force or changing shifts, before committing to Westwood.
Council Vice President Joseph D'Urso said he believed savings could be found by lowering the number of officers on shifts.
"We're not looking to lay people off," D'Urso said. "We're just looking to control the tours."
Township officials previously said the cost of operating shared dispatching would average to about $131,000 per year for the first five years, but they still wanted to know what capitol costs would be associated with the change.
Council President Richard Hrbek said he met with Westwood officials and they had quoted him a cost of $140,000 to upgrade three dispatch desks, which would be bonded over 10 years. The township would pay for 45.5 percent of the upgrade, but would only be responsible for the cost for as long as they continued to share the service.
Sobkowicz noted the township would still need to upgrade their dispatching equipment to be used in the event of a problem with Westwood's center.
Officials said they would continue to exam the costs of a shared dispatch service, but most expressed confidence about the proposal.
"I really do believe this will work," Birkner said.