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Despite Concerns From Dispatchers, Selectmen Approve Plan For Regional Dispatch Center

Aug 28, 2015 03:22PM ● Published by Bill Gilman

Representatives of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments and Board of Selectmen discuss the proposed regional dispatch center.

Gallery: Selectmen approve regional dispatch center plan [8 Images] Click any image to expand.

Despite reassurances from Fire Chief Mike Hazel and Police Chief Timothy Sheehan that manpower would not be cut and that they would be better equipped to do their jobs, a group of Tewksbury Dispatchers remains opposed to construction of a regional dispatch center.
At their meeting Wednesday, Selectmen unanimously approved a plan to build the Northern Middlesex Regional Emergency Call Center on the grounds of the Tewksbury DPW on Whipple Road. Town Manager Richard Montouri has said a regional dispatch center would result in a significant annual savings to the town.
Pending approval next month by the boards of selectmen in Chelmsford and Dracut, the center would serve those two communities as well. Lowell remains a possibility as a fourth community. However, the Lowell City Council has expressed reservations during previous discussions. It will also cast a final vote in September.
Construction and equipment costs for the new facility would be paid for entirely by the state, which passed a bill last year (Ch. 500, Acts of 2014) to encourage regionalization. The state would also pay for two years salary for the executive director. Construction and transition would take 2-3 years.
More than a dozen dispatchers from Tewksbury and the other communities involved attended Wednesday night's selectmen's meeting. However, because it was not a public hearing, Chairman Todd Johnson limited community input to just one Tewksbury dispatcher speaking on behalf of the group.
Matthew Carapellucci, an eight-year veteran dispatcher, said he and his colleagues are extremely concerned about job security, efficiency and response times with a regional dispatch center.
"When (people) call 911 they're going to get a person who doesn't know anything about Tewksbury," said Carapellucci, adding that dispatchers who either grew up in town or have years of experience are familiar with certain landmarks and colloquialisms in their towns.
"There's going to be delays in response times," he said.
Hazel and Sheehan both gave high praise to the Tewksbury dispatchers, who have been honored twice by the state in recent years for their exceptional work. But they also tried to offer reassurance that they would not be supporting the regional dispatch center if they didn't feel it was going to improve emergency service to the community.
"I think (the dispatchers) are all champions) in what they do," said Sheehan. "There's room for any of them that want to transfer over (to the regional center). There are 22 positions now (in Dracut, Tewksbury and Chelmsford) and there will be 25.5 in the regional facility."
Hazel said he recognizes some obstacles with the new facility but nothing that can't be overcome. He also stressed the need to maintain the close bond between the dispatchers and the other emergency responders.
"I started out as a dispatcher. I know what that bond is," said Hazel. "I feel it's important that we keep that connection. We have some award-winning dispatchers in here tonight and I hope they all go to the regional center."
The regional dispatch center plan is being spearheaded by the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments. In their presentation to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday night, representatives from NMCOG outlined the benefits of the facility, including costs savings to each town, improved service, enhanced staffing and state of the art equipment paid for entirely by the state.
According to NMCOG, the estimated annual budget for the new facility, if Lowell bows out, would be just over $1.7 million, divided between Tewksbury, Chelmsford and Dracut. Tewksbury's assessment would be $572,778. According to the Montuori, the estimated annual cost savings for Tewksbury would be $135,836. Those numbers are still being evaluated. And if Lowell decides to join the regional center, the cost savings would be significantly higher.
"The driving force behind this was not the cost savings, though that is a factor," said Montuori. "We believe the service will be better and the operations will be state of the art."

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