Thursday, December 3, 2015

Atlantic County, Stockton University Plan $31 Million Dollar Dispatch Center; Some Municipalities to Pay Double in Costs

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 The County presented what appears to be outdated figures of a project that is estimated to cost about $31 million dollars which is to be bonded.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. 


Anonymous said...

The concept is a good one. The issues are it's going to be a tough pill to swallow at first. Just like it was in every other county where this was done. Politicians need to stay out of it, plain and simple. Politicians you mean well, but you're not subject matter experts in Public Safety.

The biggest push for this has always been the volunteer fire service. They have long felt they were the red-headed step children to the police. The majority of the Emergency Center's are ran by police departments. There's a reason for that. 85% of the calls are Law Enforcement related calls, of the 15% left, it would be safe to suggest 10% are EMS, and then 5% are that for Fire.

Out of those 5% Fire calls, 50% are actual fires/rescue, 50% are "nothing showing, false alarms, or recalls". Yet, they are the most vocal on the "what if's". That's understandable, to a certain extent. Time have changed, and memberships have decreased. Yet, the need for qualified Fire Service members have risen. So I get it. I'm not trying to slam the Fire Service by any means, but let's call it like it is.

They Fire Association is the most vocal group with regards to this County Dispatch center. The old "squeaky wheel, gets the grease" line comes to mind.

County Dispatch is a very viable program. No one really likes change, the biggest fear is the "unknown". The 9-1-1 center employees are the ones which need should be the focus, they are the men and women who are the faceless voices which handle every single calls, it's high time those men and women are considered first.

The days of putting a cop who is about to retire on the desk to answer the phone for the last few months are long gone. The days of a college-kid looking for part-time work where they can do their homework on-duty are also gone. The duties of the 9-1-1 dispatcher is not longer the "entry-level" stepping stone to get a cop job. There are men and women who make careers out of being a 9-1-1 operator. Many will tell you, they just like so many other career public safety professionals work around the clock, they too miss holidays, family special events, and a "normal" life. They do it out of a sense of dedication to their community and profession. If you look at their salaries, you'll quickly learn they're not doing it to get rich.

The job is the one which is underrated, and causes such stress. So many politicians think it's an easy job, but most all of them would fail at the job. Not everyone is cut out to be an 9-1-1 operator, and often those who take the classes feel they could do the job, only to find out less than 20% of them make it passed 1 year.

The county is a catch-22 situation, having already staff the position of Public Safety Telecommunicator, therefore, are bound by the current collective bargaining agreement with the Teamster's local 331.

So, let's solve that issue - the county just calls the Communications Personnel another title in Civil Service - one which is not currently covered under any collective bargaining agreements.

Also, they should at this point name an actual director, and allow them to start staffing the needed personnel to have this center started off right.

ANON said...

The salaries are a joke. $28,000 is below poverty level in this state, averages out to $13/hr before taxes, pension and health benefits. These men and woman, many of whom are current or past EMTs, firefighters and/or law enforcement enforcement officers. They support themselves and their families on these salaries. N.J. is one of the most expensive states to live in, that salary could not support a one bedroom apt at $900/mo. How do the county administrators expect to hire and keep these 9-1-1 professionals when they are going to pay them a working poor salary. Most out of state county based dispatch centers have a starting salary of $32,000 for new, inexperienced dispatchers. $35,000 and up for those on the job 5+ years. Someone is going to making a lot of money, but it certainly won't be the ones answering and dispatching your 9-1-1 emergency

Anonymous said...

The towns should back out and or sue for the right to keep things they way they are.

Anonymous said...

tell me again why we are doing this if there wont be a significant, if any, cost savings, while decreasing the services to the residents of the county? seems like no one is talking about that either. do you think people will get the same service they are getting now? response time will increase in most towns as its going to take longer to get calls out. officer safety becomes an issue when the men and women on the street aren't getting the same one on one communication with the dispatcher giving out the call and dispatching the officer. seems like a big scam to me. what happens to the cost savings when the dispatchers increase salary year to year? are we then looking at higher costs then we already have and a decreased level of service?


Anonymous said...

I'll tell you why. Plain and simple corruption. It's all about kickbacks and election money.

Anonymous said...

Corruption you bet! I can't way to see who the hand selected dispatchers will be!

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