Adams Selectmen consider regionalizing emergency dispatch service
ADAMS — The town will consider regionalizing its emergency dispatch service, the Board of Selectmen agreed on Wednesday.
A consultant's study of the issue recommends that Adams use the Berkshire County Sheriff's Communications Center to dispatch emergency and non-emergency communications for the town's police, fire and ambulance services. The Communications Center, located at the county's jail facility on Cheshire Road in Pittsfield, provides around-the-clock dispatching services for at least 26 communities in Berkshire and Hampden counties.
"In short, it would be a very positive move for the town," Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco told Selectmen at its Wednesday meeting. "We would have access to better technology, to better systems, enhance officer safety, [and] there's no concerns over local safety."
Selectmen scheduled a public question-and-answer session on Dec. 9 before it takes a vote on a formal agreement with the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
Adams has historically dispatched fire, police and ambulance calls from the Police Department on School Street.
By laying off its three in-house dispatchers, Adams could save more than $1.5 million in direct costs over the next decade, not counting employee benefits and technology infrastructure expenses, according to Mazzucco.
The Sheriff's Office would charge Adams $23,000 for the first year of service. That cost would increase 3 percent annually.
Adams currently spends about $180,000 directly on dispatch services every year.
A draft agreement between the town and Sheriff's Office is currently under legal review.
"I've read through it a bunch of times," said Selectman Jeffrey Snoonian. "This hasn't been a decision that was reached haphazardly."
The difference in a recommended partner between the two reports is due to operational capacity and changes in technology, according to the report.
Snoonian and Selectman Joseph Nowak acknowledged the difficulty of potential layoffs.
Although Snoonian called the proposal "incredibly fiscally responsible," he said the reduction of jobs would be a "huge drawback."
"It's certainly a fiscally responsible thing to do, but I have to think of the human point of it also," Nowak said.
Mazzucco laid out reasons why joining the Sheriff's Communications Center would improve public safety. Its improved technology would improve first responder communications, he said. Also, a remote dispatch center would allow the police department's desk officer to leave to respond to an emergency, and the Sheriff's Communications Center can handle a higher volume of calls.
By joining the Sheriff's Communications Center, Adams also would have access to an expanded regional database of arrest records and more, Mazzucco said.
Local public safety officials met and discussed the proposal in September. They agreed it wouldn't result in longer emergency response times, according to Mazzucco. Since 911 calls from cell phones are directed to a State Police communications center in Northampton, 40 percent of Adams' emergency calls are already channeled through an outside call center.
The costs of converting to a regional dispatch center will likely be covered by a state grant, Mazzucco said. If the grant is not won, the town would hold off on regionalizing until it received the funding.
"This was the work of all layers of the safety community in Adams," Snoonian said. "There were many meetings had back and forth, this was really a great example of people coming together and making some potentially difficult decisions."
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