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Dispatch Question to Appear on Hillsdale Ballot

More than 1,000 Hillsdale residents signed a petition to get a question related to the debate over emergency dispatching on the ballot in November.

Hillsdale voters will have a non-binding say in the future of their police department in November with a referendum that more than 1,000 residents signed their support to, according to borough officials.

"The people have spoken," Councilwoman Marie Hanlon said.

During a Hillsdale Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Max Arnowitz and members of the council discussed the referendum and agreed they would vote on a resolution at their next meeting to pass the question along to the county for inclusion on the ballot in November. Officials also discussed the possibility of adding their own question or an explanatory statement to the ballot. They have until August to make a decision.

The referendum question, according to PBA President Chris Donaldson, is: "As a resident and registered voter in the Borough of Hillsdale, do you support keeping the Hillsdale Police headquarters open to the public and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a civilian dispatcher and/or police officer?"

The seemingly-simple question relates to the larger issue of emergency dispatching in the borough. In order to save money, a committee of officials is currently in the process of investigating outsourcing dispatching by entering a shared service agreement with either Bergen County's dispatching service in Mahwah or the Northwest Bergen dispatch service in Ridgewood.

If dispatching is done out of town, the police department would be closed to the public, though Arnowitz said they could create a "safe haven" that would allow people to enter, but not exit. Police would be notified by dispatchers whenever someone entered the haven, Arnowitz said.

Police Chief Chip Stalter has proposed the use of civilian dispatchers on all shifts to save money while keeping dispatching in the borough. The department has historially relied on police officers, who make more money than civilian dispatchers, to run the desk for two shifts a day. Switching to civilians all the time would mean fewer police officers would need to work on most shifts.

"There's going to be savings," Stalter told Patch Tuesday.

Keeping dispatching in Hillsdale may be too expensive, even with civilians, according to Arnowitz. The state requires that the borough does not increase its tax levy by more than 2 percent each year, though the municipal government was only able to keep it to a 2.5 percent increase this year. Much of the borough's surplus was used to keep the levy from increasing even more, Arnowitz said.

Residents and emergency officials have expressed concern about the level of service either of the out-of-town dispatch centers would provide. Councilman Douglas Frank, who is on the committee investigating dispatching options, said the committee may publish their findings before the election.

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