Avalon and Stone Harbor are set to become emergency response pioneers through a new shared services agreement tentatively approved earlier this week.

As part of the agreement, they will become the first communities in Cape May County to delegate fire and emergency medical calls to the county's emergency management communications center, which officials believe will save money and improve offseason response time.

Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi, who also serves as Cape May County emergency management coordinator, said he believes the current process of each community handling its own response is costly and outmoded.

"People are tired of paying for duplication of services," he said. "With the technology today, it's a no-brainer."

About eight months ago, Pagliughi commissioned a study on the feasibility of having the county center handle some emergency response for individual communities. The center currently dispatches for the sheriff's and prosecutor's offices and is the backup police dispatcher for all municipalities.

Avalon and Stone Harbor began talks of consolidating their service about two years ago, when they realized it was cost-prohibitive to each keep multiple dispatchers on during the slow offseason months. They also realized cutting to a single dispatcher would be a nightmare in the event of multiple emergencies.

Based on the findings of the study, Avalon and Stone Harbor officials agreed to use the county center while consolidating police dispatch in Avalon. Not only will this mean multiple dispatchers will be available at all times, but police, fire and emergency calls will be taken by dispatchers specifically trained to handle them.

Stone Harbor Mayor Suzanne Walters said because Avalon and Stone Harbor are small communities, they are good tests for the system.

"It's just the perfect thing for us to be the start of it and get the kinks out and make sure it's working," Walters said. "Maybe other municipalities will join in with us."

Under the three-year agreement, Stone Harbor will pay Avalon $275,000 for dispatch services in 2014, with a 2 percent increase in payments in 2015 and 2016.

The move is expected to save the communities a combined $1 million in administrative, staffing, facility and equipment costs. These numbers were reached through cost surveys by the consulting company hired to conduct the study.

If the new shared service agreement is successful, Pagliughi expects other municipalities will elect to use the county's communications center to achieve a proportional savings.

"The big thing is the cost savings," Pagliughi said. "Two little towns like that, $1 million in three years. You can imagine what the bigger towns would save."

The Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved the agreement during its caucus meeting Tuesday. Final approvals from the freeholders, Avalon Borough Council and Stone Harbor Borough Council are expected in the coming weeks.

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