Both sides make final pitch in Chittenden dispatch center vote

(WCAX)
Published: Mar. 2, 2018 at 12:39 AM EST
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Voters in seven Chittenden County towns will see a question on the Town Meeting Day ballot regarding the formation of a regional emergency dispatch center. Police and fire chiefs support it, but 52 out of the 60 dispatchers in the towns that are voting, are opposed to this idea.

"We're not against it just to be against it," said Kathryn Clark, who has been a 911 dispatcher in Burlington for over six years.

Clark believes things are running smoothly at the call center currently.

"We work in a very team-oriented dispatch center right now where we all can be instantaneously and simultaneously be working on things which produces a very quick and efficient result," she said.

Some town leaders believe it's not efficient enough. When you call 911 in most communities, you get a state or municipal answering point before getting to a local dispatcher. Officials say the initial process takes around 60-71 seconds, and they want to eliminate that time by creating a consolidated, regional dispatch center.

"We can put our dispatchers in one place, they know the unit status of everything that is happening in the county and then they can move those resources as they need, very quickly wherever the call for help may be," Burlington Fire Chief Steven Locke said.

Clark doesn't believe pooling dispatchers from seven towns under one roof will save response time. She and other dispatchers believe the individual knowledge of each town outweighs the potential time savings.

"We don't see the time savings as they do. Again, because we will assume that responsibility for those 60 seconds and those time savings are only on the phone call," she said.

Burlington, Williston, Shelburne, Winooski, South Burlington, Colchester and Milton will vote on Town Meeting Day on whether to allow the process to move forward. A yes vote does not bind a community to pay for dispatch services, nor does it close a dispatch center. The question of whether all dispatchers will keep their jobs is yet to be determined.

"Some towns are being told yes there will be layoffs, other towns are being told we don't know yet because we haven't got to that step," Clark said.

Eight towns were originally going to vote on joining the regional dispatch center project on Town Meeting Day. Back in December, the Essex select board decided now that now was not the time.

"I don't think Essex said no, Essex said we're going to wait and see," said Locke.

Essex select board members didn't believe the plan had adequate answers to some of their questions. Clark believes the same. She wishes more information on the operational side came to light before the vote.

"We would be open to a regional center were just not being shown anything better, anything more efficient than what we have," she said.

If approved, the measure would head to each local city council and select board for further approval. The center would tentatively be located in a space within the South Burlington Police Department.