Adams dispatchers fight plan to move calls to Sheriff's Communications Center
ADAMS — Adams' emergency dispatchers are pushing back against the town's plans to eliminate their positions.
Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco introduced a proposal last month to move the town's independent emergency dispatch services out of the Adams Police Station and into the Berkshire County Sheriff's Communications Center in Pittsfield.
The full details will be explained in a public question and answer session during the Board of Selectmen's workshop meeting Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. in the Adams Visitors Center.
Relying largely on a report from consultant Thomas Kennedy of CTC Inc. — first published in 2012 and updated earlier this year — Mazzucco says the town could save more than $1 million over the course of a decade by having its emergency services dispatched from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
Housed at the county's jail on Cheshire Road in Pittsfield, the Communications Center already provides dispatching services for some 26 communities in Berkshire and Hampden counties. Adams, which considered joining North Adams for dispatch services in 2011 but opted not to, would be the largest community to join the Sheriff's Control Center.
In a letter to the Board of Selectmen last month, Mazzucco sought to assure residents that the switch would not adversely affect public safety and would give the town access to improved technology.
But the three full-time dispatchers who stand to lose their jobs — who have more than 50 years of experience manning the desk between them — contend that Mazzucco's proposal inflates potential savings, underestimates the breadth of a dispatcher's duties, and undervalues their unmatched knowledge of the town.
Dispatchers Anthony Piscioneri and John Pansecchi spoke with members of the media on Monday evening to explain their point of view on the issue. Long-time dispatcher Thomas Romaniak was scheduled to work and was unavailable to meet at that time.
The town's agreement with the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office would cost $23,000 annually during the first year and increase 3 percent every year. Adams spends about $180,000 directly on its local dispatch services every year, a sum that excludes employee benefits and technology costs, according to Mazzucco.
But the dispatchers dispute the town's projected savings by switching services. Based on current minimum staffing standards, which require at least two officers out on the streets at all the times, the dispatchers say the town will frequently be paying a reserve officer or full-time officer overtime to man the station's desk. The dispatchers say that there are at least six to eight shifts per week that are already at minimum staffing levels, and more pop up when officers are on vacation or use personal time. Although these figures are not included in the town's savings projections, the dispatchers estimate that paying an additional officer to man the desk could exceed $100,000 annually.
"Are you just taking me out and replacing me with somebody else that either you're paying more for or are you going to close the station?" Pansecchi said.
Mazzucco claims that, without adding costs to the police salary line in the budget, he and Police Chief Richard Tarsa have worked out a staffing plan to man the station adequately. He said the station already operates without a dispatcher for more than 40 hours per week and has a sergeant on staff and on the desk more than 50 hours per week.
Piscioneri points out that, though the town would transfer its emergency dispatching services to Pittsfield, the police would still receive most of its phone calls on its administrative line.
"We take a good majority of our phone calls on administrative landlines, not 911 calls — that's a small percentage of what we do, and that's a small percentage of every agency," Piscioneri said.
Administrative duties that are typically taken care of by dispatchers — everything from helping a walk-in fill out an accident report to taking calls from the media — allow the officers to be out on the street. Patrolmen and sergeants will be tasked with handling more of those administrative duties without the dispatchers at the station, according to Piscioneri.
"It makes no sense fiscally, in this day and age, why you don't want your patrolmen and your sergeants out on the street," Piscioneri said.
Mazzucco maintains that the town's staffing plan will still allow on-duty officers to handle administrative business, and noted that Tarsa and his administrative assistant are at the station during business hours.
Anecdotally, the dispatchers also argue that they offer an unmatched attention to detail and quality of service in the town of Adams — where all three also happen to be volunteer firefighters. They believe their knowledge of Adams' geography and streets can lead to better response times, and their knowledge of the town — and its people — can improve officer safety.
Mazzucco notes that some 80 communities across Massachusetts are a part of regionalized dispatch centers that serve more than 30,000 residents. But the dispatchers argue that, if it provides the same quality of service, similar towns like Williamstown, Great Barrington, and Lenox would have already made the switch.
The dispatchers also question the importance of having additional staffing at the Berkshire County Sheriff's Communications Center at all. Between Adams' two Public Safety Answering Points, Piscioneri says the town can handle up to 20 calls at a time — each point can take four wireless calls, four landline calls, and two emergency calls. The Sheriff's Communications Center has four answering points with the ability to add up to two more, according to Mazzucco.
Adding to their frustration, the dispatchers say they were not notified of the town's plans by either Mazzucco or Tarsa, but rather read about the proposal in the news. Mazzucco maintains that he has been in frequent contact with the dispatchers' union.
Piscioneri and Pancecchi stressed that residents come to Wednesday's meeting and ask questions about the plan.
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