BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – No decision has been made yet on a joint emergency services dispatch center for four municipalities including Berkeley Heights, but the Township Council had the opportunity to question two of its potential partners at the Tuesday, April 24 council meeting.

“The towns have been discussing it for years, since 2006,” said Council President Kevin Hall after the meeting. Three different studies were done. “The latest iteration was the middle of last year. It was presented in March. Summit, New Providence and Berkeley Heights engaged Kimball (a consultant) about developing the joint dispatch.” Millburn would also be a partner. Summit currently does its fire dispatch.

Whether or not to proceed, he said, is a council issue. The township’s current dispatch center is in an “end of life” situation. “We have to make a decision during this calendar year. It is important that Berkeley Heights be able to remedy the situation this calendar year,” Hall said.

Sign Up for E-News

The key items presented on Tuesday by municipal administrators Chris Cotter of Summit and Doug Marvin of New Providence were:

  • Dispatching of police, fire and rescue would be done for the four municipalities and possibly others via a contract service;
  • The goals are to develop a multi-discipline dispatch center where staffing levels are adequate to deal with multiple emergency calls simultaneously; to develop a shared environment where integrated technology will assure compliance with local and national dispatch protocols; enhance professionalism and service delivery through technology that would otherwise be cost prohibitive; eliminate duplicate purchasing for 9-1-1, computer technology and other equipment; and to provide a consolidated dispatch service at a reduced per capita cost to taxpayers.
  • Costs for capital improvements would be shared equally by the four stakeholders. Technology and communication expenses would be paid through grants received. Assuming all four participate, the capital contribution from each town would be $205,000. Additional costs for the project are anticipated at $745,000 and Summit has $1.6 million in grant funding which will be applied to cover that expense.

To date, all of the studies done indicate shared dispatch is “feasible and recommended.”

The center would be governed by a “joint meeting” of representatives from all of the participating municipalities. At this point, the amount each town would pay would be based on census. After a year, call volume might be considered, said Connor.

Personnel benefits, according to Connor and Marvin, would include the ability to eliminate the need to have sworn police personnel filling in for dispatchers; to eliminate administrative issues and costs surrounding recruiting, hiring and training of new dispatchers; and the elimination of administrative time associated with personnel management involving dispatchers.

Many of the questions introduced by council members related to what would happen if one of the partners either does not participate, or decides to leave. If either were the case, it would be back to the drawing board to recalculate the financial impact on the remaining towns.

Mayor Joseph Bruno asked, “Today is April 24. If it was all signed today, when would the center be operational?”

Marvin responded it would likely be the second quarter of 2013.

He said he met with the New Providence two weeks ago. “Their reaction to the numbers with the four towns participating is they’re going to move forward.”

Connor said Summit supports the center, “assuming a model with four communities. We’re (also) waiting for a decision from Millburn.” He said although Summit now only handles fire calls for Millburn, the new center would take police and emergency services calls for that municipality as well.

The Township Council gave the visitors no indication of what they were thinking regarding the joint dispatch and took no action.

In other business:

  • The Township Environmental Commission was presented with Sustainable Jersey Silver Certification by Sustainable Jersey representative Tahiri Smith. Berkeley Heights is one of only nine municipalities in the state to reach this level of environmental achievement.
  • On Monday, May 7 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Governor Livingston High School, experts from the Passaic River Coalition, Rutgers, and the state Department of Environmental Protection will give a presentation and answer questions to address flooding in the Passaic River Basin. Enhancing property values, conforming to riparian ordinances and protecting streams are all on the agenda as well. Officials from Berkeley Heights, Summit, New Providence and Gillette are encouraging residents to attend. The program is sponsored by the Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission.
  • Township “Clean Up Day” is also Monday, May 7. Bruno indicated “with pressures on the budget” he doesn’t know how long the township will be offering this service. “Since you know it’s coming this year, get as much out as you can.” He noted there is a “no scavenger” ordinance and people cannot rummage through other’s trash looking for metal or other saleable items. If residents see that happening, they should call the police at 464-1111.