The cost of emergency dispatch is “deeply critical” to any final decision on the fiscal 2014 Hamilton town budget, Finance Advisory Chairman John McWane told Selectmen on Monday night.
Hamilton Selectmen are faced with the prospect of a $180,000 increase in costs to stay on its own and continue to offer emergency dispatch from the Hamilton Public Safety Building.
Wenham has decided to leave the two-town dispatch center where it has been a member since the 1960s and join the Essex Regional Communications Center, which is under construction in Middleton. The new dispatch center is expected to begin operations this summer.
Hamilton now needs to decide whether it wants to join the regional center, go it alone or try to partner with a different community, said Town Manager Michael Lombardo.
Selectmen were reticent to join the regional center and had a series of questions for leaders of the new center last year that they felt were not answered adequately.
Selectmen asked Lombardo to discuss a partnership with neighboring communities. In recent months, he has spoken with leaders in Ipswich and Manchester-by-the-Sea, but those discussions have “bogged down,” Lombardo told Selectmen on Monday night.
“We are at a crossroads,” he said. “We are at a decision point.”
Both Ipswich and Manchester run it sown dispatch operations, so joining with Hamilton would offer a savings. But the loss of Wenham as a partner is driving up Hamilton’s costs, since the dispatch center needed to be manned around the clock, 24 hours per day.
“We’re not able to give up coverage,” Lombardo said, noting the dispatch is manned with one employee with a second person only during the busiest times.
Lombardo said one of his concerns with the regional center was the possibility that Hamilton would be required to cover capital improvement costs in other communities, when Hamilton would arrive at the center with adequate equipment.
“I know what we have for infrastructure and it is pretty darn good,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo has a meeting with officials from the Essex County Regional Communications Center on Tuesday where he hopes to get more details about the cost and logistics of Hamilton joining it.