Atlantic County and Stockton University have entered into an estimated $31 million dollar contract for a Countywide Dispatch Center and Stockton Police Center. The catch is every taxpayer in Atlantic County will flip the majority of the bill for years to come and layoff of employees will be required.
On November 10, 2015 Atlantic County conducted a presentation in which every Mayor was invited to attend. The County presented what appears to be outdated figures of a project that is estimated to cost about $31 million dollars which is to be bonded.
According to the presentation released by Atlantic County, Stockton University will contribute $4.8 million to the project and 8 acres of land located on Stockton's property on Pomona Road and Duerer Street, for the complex to be built.
The County's portion of the costs is estimated to be $28,875.431 which is slated to be paid by each taxpayer in Atlantic County. However, the $31 million only covers the construction, design, permits, telecommunication equipment and other costs such as furniture. What is not included in the costs are the operational staff which would include dispatchers / supervisors, fringe benefits, pension costs, and normal utility bills in order to keep the facility running year to year.
The County presented the cost of the construction this year based on a 2012 survey. It is only assumed the costs would be greater than $31 million as the County has not updated their survey or costs.
Right now each municipality in Atlantic County either has their own dispatching services or contracts with another town or nearby county. Twelve (12) of the twenty-three (23) Atlantic County municipalities will have an increase into the total cost of dispatching services if the County takes over those duties. Some of those increases are more than doubled the normal costs. For example, Port Republic currently pays Galloway $2,000 for dispatch service per year. With the County plan, Port Republic taxpayers would be responsible to be pay the County $28,432.24 per year.
Those costs would appear on tax bills as a County 911 Tax. According to the presentation, "with the creation of a new unit of county government to handle 911 dispatch, municipal costs associated with 911should be removed from municipal cap base as this cost will now be in the County budget."
According to the chart above, it appears the County Tax is $0.021 for each municipality and the county has calculated the costs per municipality based on their equalized assessed values and municipal levy. Those municipalities who values are greater than 100% the county has adjusted the tax rate rate either higher or lower per town. However, because some municipalities tax levy differ, the smaller towns, or towns with no police are left with the higher bill.
The dispatch center is projected to be located in Galloway Township. Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy stated "centralizing would be better especially when you have storms and systems go down, the communications in one place would be better than multiple. I will make sure my town is safe if not more safer and I am not going backdown or take less. Communications is vital to public safety."
The one cost the County has addressed is what happens to the dispatchers already hired in each municipality. "The County will hire personnel to staff the 911 dispatch center. Municipalities will be required to layoff their 911 personnel. The County will be required by the Civil Service Commission to deal with any re-employment lists that may be in effect." The layoffs will certainly cause unemployment rates to spike in an already saturated market with the layoffs from the Casinos. Each municipality will still be responsible to pay for the unemployment benefits for each dispatcher that applies for them.
The County stated at the November 10th meeting that the starting salary for the 911 positions would be approximately $28,000. Most of the municipal dispatchers in Atlantic County start at an average of $32,500 according to union contracts. There is no guarantee that a supervisor making approximately $65,000 would be secured a job at the same rate with the County. Each dispatcher that becomes employed with the County would be joining into the Teamsters Union within the County already.
"One of the concerns I have is the existing salary of the Sheriffs dispatchers which is not equivalent to current experience municipal dispatchers have including those in Galloway Township" stated Mayor Don Purdy.
Galloway Township Police Chief Donna Higbee could not comment on the dispatch center other than to indicate "The Mayor and Council are the final say on any decision to move forward with the program. I can tell you that information is very limited as of now and I have not heard any updates since the November meeting."
Longport Police Chief Frank Culmone who was vocal against the County plan did not immediately return comment.
Galloway Township News has submitted several Open Public Records Requests with the Atlantic County regarding the Countywide Dispatch Center and so far has been meet with resistance from Jennifer Starr who is the Assistant County Counsel. The County has yet to release internal documentation regarding the Dispatch Center. The County has however released the agreement between the County and Stockton University.
Additional talks will be scheduled in January with the Atlantic County Mayor's Association regarding the Dispatch center stated Mayor Don Purdy who is the incoming Vice-President of the Association.