Shelburne may lose two 911 dispatchers

MONTPELIER – The E-911 emergency call centers operated by the town of Shelburne and the state police in Williston may lose funding for two dispatchers each if the proposed new Chittenden County Regional Dispatch Center ever begins operation.

Vermont Emergency 911 Board gave tentative approval last week to the idea of possibly shifting up to four state-funded emergency dispatching positions to the new dispatch center proposed by the Chittenden County Public Safety Authority.  The new agency is designed to cover emergency calls within Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, Colchester, Milton and Williston.

Vermont State Police Capt. Thomas Hango, who oversees the two state-owned answering sites known as PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points), told fellow E911 board members his department had an expectation it might lose funds that now cover a couple of salaries at Williston.

Shelburne officials were not at the board meeting, nor were they invited.
Barbara Neal, the executive director of the E911 board, said Tuesday that nothing is definite.  Neal said she still has to review all the emergency call statistics coming from all the towns across Vermont before a determination is made on shuffling seats.  She said a large chunk of the E911 calls would no longer go into state police in Williston if the new dispatch center begins operation.

Neal reiterated the discussion by board members last week that they want to avoid adding more funded dispatcher positions.  There are 24 funded dispatchers now, Neale said.  State police have nine at the Williston barracks and seven at Westminster.

Shelburne, St. Albans and Hartford Police each get two seats funded by the state.  The Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department also has two funded seats.

Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo was surprised to learn about the 911 board’s vote from the Shelburne News on Monday. He said he had expressed concern before the March vote that Shelburne might lose out if the Chittenden County plan moved forward.

On Town Meeting Day last month, seven Chittenden County communities voted on whether to participate in forming the new regional dispatch authority. Shelburne was the only town where voters rejected the proposal; the vote was 1,149 to 906 against it.

After the vote in March, Colangelo told the Shelburne News, “It will be important that we continue to closely monitor and stay as engaged as possible with the discussions of the CCPSA. Decisions they make will impact Shelburne in the future.”

He said Shelburne has been given $45,000 for each dispatcher, but a new formula is reducing the town’s share to $75,000.

911 board meeting
The vote by the State E911 Board was toward the end of its quarterly meeting on Wednesday.  It came after members were told the Chittenden County Public Safety Authority had approved a formal resolution requesting the state make the proposed center a designated PSAP.  The target date for opening is July 2019, but much work remains.

The Chittenden County resolution provides thanks to Neal and Chairman Gary Taylor, the public safety director in St. Albans, for supporting the request to become a PSAP during a meeting with Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson.

The meeting with Anderson happened before Chittenden County voters went to the polls to decide the future of the new dispatch center, Neale said Tuesday.

The state board approved the request 5-0 with Burlington Fire Chief Steve Locke abstaining. Locke, the former fire chief in Hartford, also serves as a member of the Chittenden County Public Safety Board.

Locke acknowledged that there were “plenty of opportunities for this to fall apart.”

Regional dispatching has been discussed off and on for about 50 years in Chittenden County.  In the 1970s South Burlington operated an emergency dispatch center that included all its city departments, along with services for other agencies, including Colchester and Milton Police.

Shelburne also has operated its own 24-hour dispatching center for about 50 years. Shelburne has picked up other agencies through the years and now handles calls and dispatching for 49 police, fire, rescue and first responder agencies in Chittenden, Addison and Grand Isle counties, according to a list on its website.

Chittenden County officials have estimated that the new Chittenden call center might field 40,000 calls a year and that it would reduce incoming calls to Williston and Shelburne.

Mixed support
When the regional authority proposal was put to voters earlier this year, many local dispatchers and public safety union representatives complained that the plan saying wasn’t ready for a vote and they were critical that the planning group didn’t include front-line dispatchers.

They also noted that under the proposal, town governing boards could move forward on the Chittenden center without ever bringing the issue back to local voters when all the costs were known and questions answered.

Several area police and fire chiefs and the Executive Director of the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission, Charlie Baker, all supported the new dispatch center.

In an opinion piece sent to the news media before the March vote, Baker wrote: “We know there are still many questions to resolve regarding human resources/staffing and interagency communications, to name just two.”

“After the CCPSA works out more of the details over the next year, each municipal elected body will have to make a separate decision about whether to commit staff and funding. This vote only forms the CCPSA, it does not commit either dollars or staff to the effort,” he wrote.

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