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Residents Speak Out on Regional Dispatch, No Decision Made

The Hamilton Board of Selectmen heard from several residents plus the fire chief, police chief and chief dispatcher about possibly joining a regional dispatch center in Middleton.

If emergency dispatch services are like ketchup, do Hamilton residents want the store brand or Heinz?

At least one resident says he wants name-brand Heinz because it is reliable, always tastes good and you know what you will get even thought it costs more.

Jeff Sterling's comparison of dispatch services to ketchup earned an applause from many members of the crowd, which numbered about 25 people, during a public hearing at on Monday night.

Residents filled the Memorial Room at Hamilton Town Hall, with many of them saying that they preferred to keep emergency dispatch in town instead of moving a to a proposed countywide regional dispatch center that would be build at the Essex County Sheriff's Department in Middleton. The Board of Selectmen was taking public comment on the move.

Some residents just asked questions.

Other came out with overt support for the existing arrangement.

"This may be the greatest center on the face of the planet," said Kirby Brand, who has been a Hamilton-Wenham dispatcher for more than 20 years.

Chief Dispatcher Anne Marie Cullen encouraged Selectmen to examine why towns such as Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea and West Newbury decided to not become part of the proposed center, which doesn't have an opening date set yet.

Selectmen outlined three different possible scenarios, ranging in cost from $189,911 per year to $501,363, the current cost.

If the existing dispatch center remains with no cuts the household cost to run the dispatch center would go up $101 per year.

A staff member from the Essex County Sheriff's Department, Rick Jeffery, looked on from the back of the room but didn't speak or answer questions at the hearing. Sheriff Frank Cousins plans to go before the Wenham Board of Selectmen, which has already voted to become part of the regional center, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at .

Harriet Davis, the one Wenham Selectman that opposed Wenham moving to the regional center in Middleton, said the decision was "fast tracked."

"We need to be sure and get answers to these critical questions," Davis said.

She said Wenham could revote its decision.

"We're not making a decision tonight," said Jennifer Scuteri, Board of Selectmen chairman. "It is definitely going to be a full board decision when we make it."

Board member David Carey and Marc Johnson were not in attendance at Monday night's meeting.

The board has set a deadline of Jan. 15 to decide.

Selectmen Bill Bowler said all neighboring towns have been approached about becoming a partner with Hamilton in a dispatch center and there's been no interest. He encouraged Selectmen to make a decision and stand behind it.

Both Police Chief Russell Stevens and Fire Chief Phil Stevens said the way calls are handled wouldn't be affected whether dispatch is moved to Middleton or not.

If dispatch operations are moved to Middleton, Police Chief Russell Stevens said it would mean that the could be unstaffed from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

That would mean that people that show up at the police station to speak to an officer would pick up a phone and look into a camera to speak with a dispatcher.

"Is that what we want?" Stevens said. "It all comes down to what you want and what you want to spend."

Fire Chief Phil Stevens said service will likely be the same, whether it remains in Hamilton or moves to Middleton.

"You are probably not going to know the difference except for the personal touch," Phil Stevens said. "Either way, you're going to call and we're going to be there."

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