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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Towns Cite Savings After Joining 911 Central Dispatch System

the remodeled Cape May County Office of Emergency Management Central Dispatch and Lower Township Public Safety Building were officially operational. OEM Central Dispatch began operation in the facility in early June in anticipation of hurricane season. Communication systems were tested over the summer
File Photo
Then-Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton speaks at the opening of the county’s central 911 dispatch facility in 2018. Behind Thornton, from left, are Marty Pagliughi, director of the county Office of Emergency Management, Assemblyman Erik Simonsen and then-Lower Township Police Chief Bill Mastriana.

By Christopher South

ERMA – Cape May County’s 911 central dispatch system is marking its sixth year in the Lower Township Public Safety Building, with its members touting the cost savings they have realized by participating in the system.

Cost savings was always one of the main selling points for central dispatch, as all of the participants share in paying the expenses. County Administrator Kevin Lare said the six participating towns are Lower Township, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Middle Township, Wildwood Crest and Cape May. The center also serves the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office. There are 16 municipalities in the county.

Marty Pagliughi, director of the county Office of Emergency Management, listed what he considered the three biggest benefits of central dispatch: Cost savings to the municipalities, state-of-the-art technology and enhanced public safety and response time for emergencies. He said instead of one or two dispatchers on duty at a municipal dispatch center, the county operation employs nine dispatchers and a supervisor on duty 24/7.

The dispatch center, previously located in the basement of the Cape May County Library’s main branch, was the product of years of planning and cost about $6 million in renovations at the Lower Township Public Safety Building, which also houses the township Police Department and Municipal Court. All are located in the Cape May County Airport complex. The county’s Emergency Management Communications Center is also at the Public Safety Building.

The center includes seven operational dispatch stations, with room to expand to 26. The system is compatible with both the 700 MHz Public Safety Spectrum, to which some county municipalities have upgraded for dispatch, and the older, trunked radio system that other towns use.

In 2018, then-Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said, “The costs will be spread around once more towns join in. This is an opportunity to save money and provide tax relief.”

Lower Township was scheduled to pay $600,000 per year for dispatch under the system introduced in 2018, which Thornton said was a savings of about $160,000. On Friday, April 26, Township Manager Mike Laffey said the township now pays $500,000 for dispatch services.

Wildwood Crest has paid $265,000 since 2019. Between that year and the next two years, the Crest saved about $333,000 over the cost of having its own 911 dispatch. Prior to joining the county system, the Crest paid a little over $365,000 per year.

Cape May Police Chief Dekon Fashaw said his department now pays $245,000 to participate in the county system. He said the cost of having Cape May run its own dispatch team was $350,000 to $400,000 per year.

Fashaw said the city previously had five dispatchers receiving salaries and benefits. He said Cape May should pay the same $245,000 until 2025.

Pagliughi said the cost to the municipalities has always been based on a charge-per-call. He said that, in 2014, the county developed a formula to fund the proper staffing level and technology for the central dispatch system, based on a certain call volume.

“The only change going forward, to the agencies, will be an increase in the charge-per-call due to inflation and increases in salaries and wages since 2014,” Pagliughi said. “The total cost to the county will be equally distributed between the participating agencies.”

He said the new charge calculation would project costs over the next five years.

“As more agencies join the system, the price per call will be reduced equally to all participating units,” Pagliughi said.

Lare said the county central dispatch facility can only bring on one town in a defined time, which he said is generally one every eight to 10 months, because the changeover is very technical and extensive. However, when other towns join central dispatch it will lower the cost per town, something the county continues to use as a selling point to other towns.

“The financial modeling the county performed and presented to our member towns a month or so ago demonstrates the greatest financial benefit with additional towns joining the shared service,” Lare said. “The county has the capacity, know-how and the infrastructure to accommodate additional towns and fire/rescue.”

He said he believes the central dispatch system is working well and is providing exemplary service to member towns. He credits Pagliughi and his team for the success of the system thus far and said they are ready to work with other towns.

“It is an excellent demonstration in local governments sharing services, and the residents win when we do that,” Lare said.

Fashaw said the Cape May Police Department was forced to join the county dispatch system due to a lightning strike that took out the city’s system. He said his department has worked very well with the county and the people working in central 911 dispatch, adding they have a better system and more up-to-date technology. He said that had the city decided to replace its system, it would have cost taxpayers almost $1 million.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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