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Despite higher costs, South Shore officials praise regional dispatch center

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 30, 2014 11:05 AM

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A projected five percent increase in the budget for the regional emergency dispatch center based in Hingham hasn’t altered local opinions of the entity’s worth, with local managers still confident that operational gains have outweighed monetary losses.

Budgets have been a concern for most of the four communities that joined the South Shore Regional Emergency Communications Center between 2011 and 2013, with planned savings and cost efficiencies never really materializing.

Despite that trend continuing into the next fiscal year, town administrators said the center has provided tangible value.

"I think it's working fantastic," said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau. "We can point to at least two if not three incidents where [emergency medical dispatchers] saved someone’s life over the phone. We’re providing a much higher level of service than was provided by the tour towns individually."

Boudreau also said the dispatch center's metrics were above state averages.

He isn't alone in his support. In Hingham, town officials said the ability to handle multiple emergencies at the same time has been invaluable.

“The ability for dispatchers to handle a multitude of calls, emergencies at the same time, to provide emergency med dispatch abilities, to have the same equipment in four towns for larger scale issues - there are a tremendous amount of benefits,” said Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades in a phone interview.

Hingham has seen the biggest budgetary difference. In fiscal 2014, which began last July 1, Hingham’s allocation for the dispatch center was $675,000.

That compares with about $456,000 in fiscal 2011, the last year Hingham ran a separate dispatch center. (The fiscal 2011 number was about $50,000 lower than usual, due to one-year cutbacks.)

In Cohasset, the emergency dispatch operating budget totaled $239,353 in fiscal 2011 (the cost of benefits was not available) and was set to total about $250,000 in fiscal 2014 (which does include benefits).

In Norwell, operations and benefits costs will fall from $465,000 in fiscal 2011 to $325,000 in fiscal 2014. These numbers, however, do not reflect a related $200,000 increase in the police budget.

Hull is the only community that has seen substantial savings. Its dispatch center spent more than $486,000 for operations and benefits in fiscal 2011, and that number has dropped to $355,000 in fiscal 2014.

Each of these budgets is expected to increase approximately five percent in fiscal 2015, largely due to the settling of a union contract with the dispatchers and the need to buy additional software.

Hull Town Administrator Phillip Lemnios has said previously that cost was not the primary driver for the center, and he wasn't surprised by the recent increases.

“There are some technical issues that need to be addressed. Some of the items purchased are coming off warranty, we need to make [plans] for those things,” he said.

Cohasset Town Manager Christopher Senior was not available for comment.

Increases won’t only be limited to the first few years. Because software and technology is so heavily utilized, some aspects will have to be updated every three to five years.

“This is a unique operation, in that a lot of this stuff is in use constantly,” Lemnios said.

Alexiades agreed that budgets will likely be on the rise for some time. “The only way to save money on the center long term is to grow it, which is a benefit to us and the new member communities that join,” Alexiades said.

No discussions have begun on expanding the dispatch center, though those conversations may begin in the next year.

“The state has provided us with over $5 million to build out that [center] with the newest and best technology. I do think that other communities will look at that for the resource it is, if we can match the cost of their or beat the cost of their service they are expending,” Alexiades said.

Costs may go down for some present communities in the center through discussions over the budget allocation, though those discussions are still a ways off, Alexiades said.

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