Chittenden County regional emergency dispatch hits roadblock

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Published: Jan. 21, 2023 at 6:42 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Within Governor Scott’s budget address Friday was a $1.3 million proposal that aims to fill a gap in funding for emergency dispatching services. This comes as a years-long project to create a county-wide dispatching center has hit another roadblock.

“It’s expensive to get going and I think that ultimately has proved to be one of our biggest challenges,” said South Burlington Fire Chief Stephen Locke, who serves as chair of Chittenden County Public Safety Authority

The idea began in 2016 for eight Chittenden County municipalities to work together to provide regional dispatching services under one roof. But from the beginning, the authority has continued to find itself in a difficult situation.

When an emergency call comes through, the dispatch center, it eliminates the transfer of calls and reduces response time. To start, there were eight municipalities on board, but as of this year, only four remain, including Williston, Winooski, South Burlington, and Burlington.

“The more people we have to spread the cost out, the better it is, and the easier it is on everybody else,” Locke said. “Colchester not being able to do it this year creates a challenge.”

According to a letter from the Colchester Select Board chair, the town failed to authorize the funding for their portion of the project. Colchester officials say a regional dispatch would cost 38% more than local dispatch in annual operating costs, plus $206,000 in additional capital.

“If we can overcome financial challenges, I think that is the way to deliver the best services,” Locke said. “But I’m also very understanding that high inflation has led to a lot of high expenses and every community is kind of struggling with how they’re going to pay those this year.”

Of those asked to vote on forming the regional service back in 2018, only Shelburne voted against the proposal. Shelburne already serves as one of the state’s public safety answering points, dispatching for themselves as well as nearly three dozen other communities. Shelburne Town Manager Lee Krohn spearheaded the project before becoming town manager. “There was not political support or operational support for joining in a regional agency when we already essentially operated one,” he said. He says although they’ve stayed out of the proposal, Shelburne can serve as a backup. “Assuming the other regional dispatch agency does get up and running, maybe we can still be partners in this and find ways to be backup for each other, so we can maximize the service availability no matter what happens.”

The project has also relied heavily on state and federal funding, but according to a report from the most recent meeting, they are only two-thirds of the way toward having the funds that they need.

The proposed site for the dispatch center is within the South Burlington Police Department.