CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Several mainland municipalities are urging Cape May County to offer centralized police and fire dispatching instead of the multitown hodgepodge that exists now.
Upper Township Committee drafted a letter to the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders this week urging them to consider consolidating dispatch services, which are currently handled by dispatchers in 11 municipalities and the county. The township has a shared-services agreement with Ocean City for police and fire dispatching.
“We could save money and increase efficiency,” Committeeman and Marmora Volunteer Fire Company Chief Jay Newman said. “To me it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have dispatchers at 2 a.m. in February working in Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, North Wildwood, Wildwood and Cape May.”
Several New Jersey counties, including Ocean and Gloucester, have one centralized dispatching center for all of their municipalities. With budget cuts and declining revenue, municipalities in Atlantic County also are looking at potential savings through consolidated dispatching, such as combining facilities, equipment or personnel.
Middle Township, which does its own dispatching, also wants Cape May County to pursue the idea.
“That would be the best shared-services agreement I can think of,” Mayor Susan DeLanzo said. “It’s worked in other counties. I think it would be a good thing.”
DeLanzo said the cost of upgrading communications technology makes the issue more pressing.
“You’re always upgrading. For everyone to have the same technology is very expensive,” she said.
Ocean City upgraded its police communications system in 2007 to more easily communicate with police agencies in Atlantic County. But Mayor Jay Gillian said he would be open to suggestions about consolidating resources.
“We’re always looking at shared services. If something comes up, we’ll absolutely look at it,” he said.
Despite the potential cost savings, centralized dispatch may require a learning curve, Newman said.
Last year, firefighters in Dennis Township and Woodbine were dispatched to a house fire on a road locally known as Head of the River Road. But on many county maps and global-positioning satellite systems, the county road is known as Belleplain Road.
These ambiguities can cause confusion, particularly among outside agencies that may be less familiar with their neighbors’ geography.
“If someone’s not from the area, they’ll just have to learn the area. Will there be issues? Sure,” Newman said.
But Newman said local knowledge by first-responders, combined with better technology, are making these examples the extreme exception.
“You get people from Pennsylvania calling on the Garden State Parkway, and they have no idea where they are. They don’t know which municipality they’re in or even which county they’re in,” Newman said. “But this is less of a problem with the advent of more of these phones that have GPS.”
County Emergency Management Director Frank McCall said the county is capable of providing central dispatch. To pursue the idea, the county likely will hire a communications consultant, he said.
“Technology is changing every day. Anything you do today may be obsolete in three to five years,” he said.
In July, Verizon will release its technology plan for providing 911 communications for Cape May County and to meet stricter FCC bandwidth rules that go into effect in 2013, he said.
The primary consideration will be to ensure any consolidation will lead to actual savings, he said.
“We need to sort through that just to make sure we’re not creating a new monster when it comes to personnel and personnel benefits,” he said.
He expects to have a proposal in time for municipalities to adjust their 2013 budgets, he said.
“I just hope everyone keeps an open mind and allows for discussion and feedback,” he said. “If there is going to be a change, give people time to plan for this.”
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