HOLLY, Michigan – More than 100 concerned residents filled the auditorium of Holly Middle School Tuesday night, and most of them left angry after council voted to shut down the village’s dispatch center and send the services to Oakland County.
In April, council began exploring the idea of outsourcing dispatch services to Oakland County as a way of saving the village between $80,000 and $150,000 per year, depending upon whether the village officials sent one 12-hour shift to Oakland County Dispatch per day, or scrapped dispatch services all together.
While the village currently pays $305,000 annually to keep its dispatch center up and running, the cost of outsourcing dispatch services to Oakland County for one 12-hour shift per day is $43,000 per year, or $113,000 per year for 24/7 services.
Keeping dispatch services local proved to be an emotional topic among residents, as more than 70 people attended the May 28 meeting in which council asked village administrators to provide more detailed information on potential cost savings associated with outsourcing.
On June 9, council members received an 8-page memorandum from Village Manager Jerry Walker, detailing 3-5 year cost projections to keep Holly’s dispatch center intact, projected costs for training, equipment and software upgrades, and where the cost savings would go, should council decide to outsource the services.
In his memo, Walker identified a major component of the issue as it relates to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which went into effect on March 1 of this year. Under the NFPA guidelines, dispatch centers providing both non-emergency and emergency functions must be manned by two dispatchers at identical work stations on a 24/7 basis, and comply with all of the NFPA call-taking protocol.
“The village of Holly Dispatch Center currently provides services 24-hours per day, seven days per week with a single dispatcher on duty at all times,” Walker wrote. “Based upon the above listed sections of Chapter 7 of NFPA 1221, this means that our current operational procedure is unable to meet all of the recommendations at current staffing levels.”
Staffing and Training Costs
Per NFPA guidelines, Walker said the village would need to hire four new dispatchers to cover all of the shifts adequately, an increase of $202,269 in the first year. Additionally, Walker said the new hires would be required to complete a 40-hour training course. “Upon completion of Modules I and II for four additional hires, the village will pay annually approximately $2,800 to maintain the required continuing educational credits mandated by the State 911 Committee.”
Equipment and Software Costs
As for equipment and software needs, Walker reported that the software used with the current 911 equipment in the Holly Dispatch Center has not been upgraded since its installation in 2006. Walker said Joseph Cousineau, a marketing development manager for AWT Wireless, the company that currently provides service to the dispatch center, didn’t recommend the upgrade as the equipment will become antiquated within the next 18-months, and would not comply with the upcoming Next Generation 911system. At a minimum, Cousineau said, it would require replacement of a server and a workstation at a cost of at least $24,000.
Due to upgrades in the Oakland County Computer Aided Dispatch System, the village would also be required to purchase two workstations, two printers and eight display monitors at an additional cost of approximately $7,000.
To remain in compliance with NFPA1221standards, a second Open Sky Radio Console would be required and would cost approximately $50,000, Walker said.
HPD Daily Operations
Walker said existing dispatch staffers currently handle the receipting of various revenue sources within the police department including PBTs, vehicle impounds, sex offender registrations, and fingerprinting services.
“All of these services will continue to be provided to our residents and would be handled by civilian staff during the day, and our police officers after hours,” Walker said.
Non-revenue-generating services including burn permits, garage/estate sale permits, vacation checks, pawn shop receipts, gun permits and registrations will still be available and handled either by a civilian staffer during the day or via the police department’s website, Walker said. Prisoner detentions would be monitored by civilian staff during the day, and transported to Oakland County Jail after business hours.
Potential Uses for Savings
In his memo, Walker issued a laundry list of recommended uses for the saved funds including refurbishment of the Holly Fire Department ambulance in the amount of $60,000, updates in the amount of $5,000 to the Holly Police Department Dispatch Center, replacement of the village’s copier/printer/scanner/fax for $5,000, the purchase and installation of an electronic marquis sign to be erected near Ganshaw Park not to exceed $15,000, transfer of funds in the amount of $20,000 to the Local Road Fund, a Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS) contribution of $25,000, Mill Pond Dam Replacement fund allocation of $10,000, and the remaining $2,073 to go back into the village’s general fund in addition to the one-time cash payment of $70,000 from Oakland County.
Consequences of non-Compliance with NFPA 1221
“While there are no specific sanctions for non-compliance stipulated in NFPA 1221, the fact that the village is aware of our limitations potentially opens our community to vicarious liability which must be considered,” Walker summarized in his memo. “While some may say nothing will happen, the chances are that something will happen, and if service is not provided per standards or if someone is injured, then liability will attach.”
Walker said it is unclear if non-compliance would eventually lead to a forced closure of Holly’s dispatch center, but said it is obvious that the village of Holly is required to abide by all applicable rules concerning operation of a Public Service Answering Point (PSAP).
Council weighs in
After listening to 90-minutes of public comment, council prepared to discuss the information provided by Walker, and possibly put the matter of the village’s dispatch to bed once and for all. Most of those taking the podium during public comment favored saving Holly’s dispatch center, while others asked council to check their emotions at the door, and make the best possible fiscal decision on behalf of the village.
“My feeling is that this cannot be an emotional action by council,” former Village President Jeff Miller said during public comment. “The bottom line is, our first priority is to give the best service dollar-for-dollar to the citizens who live here, to the businesses, the landlords, or whoever pays the millage to give the very best without emotion.”
Councilman Ryan Bladzik said he felt council had “done their homework” on the pros and cons of outsourcing Holly’s dispatch services. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but this has not been an easy decision – this has not been an easy thing to look at – there are a lot of different facets to it.”
Councilwoman Jackie Campbell said she still had many outstanding questions on the issue, and specifically questioned NFPA’s role in establishing dispatch standards. “They are not associated with the federal government or the state of Michigan in anyway – NFPA is a private entity,” she said, adding that she was still waiting on additional clarification on the agency.
Additionally, Campbell said she would like to have an actual contract to review with Oakland County before agreeing to anything. “I don’t see how this council can vote on anything with dispatch when we can’t get a contract here to see what we agreed to or what we didn’t agree to,” she said.
Campbell reiterated her thoughts from the May 28 meeting. “I asked a simple question – can we at least hold it for one year for our equipment to make sure that our citizens – those who we are here to represent – that we can just hold up and listen to them, calm down the emotions, calm down the fear factor to make sure that it will even work?”
Campbell’s comments spurred a round of applause from the audience.
Patricia Coates, the 911 coordinator for all Oakland County Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) was on hand to help clarify the costly technology challenges the village faces, should it keep its own dispatch center.
“My role through CLEMIS is to be a resource,” she said. “To have coordination meetings with all of our PSAPs, to make sure everyone is aware of changing technology, training standards, and legislation.”
Coates explained that the current 911 system is based on technology going back to 1962. “At that time, the phone companies changed the way you could call long distance,” she said. “Before then, you had to go through an operator to call long distance – after that, you could dial it directly.”
Coates said the 1962 trunk system works well for 911 calls made from a landline, but that pinpointing the location of wireless or cell phone 911 calls proves to be a challenge.
“The government has recognized that needs to change,” she said. “Next Generation 911 is coming very quickly and that’s part of the research that Mr. Walker has done.”
Among the things driving Next Generation 911 is the ability to pinpoint wireless call locations, and to add texting to 911 capabilities to the system. “Texting to 911 is particularly important for the deaf and speech impaired community because they are using texting as their primary method of communication rather than the old TTYs and PDDs,” she said.
The Oakland County Dispatch Center will be the first in Oakland County to offer such services, and is expected to roll the service out in September, Coates said.
“There will be a lot of hardware and software upgrades necessary, and 911 isn’t going to get cheaper,” she said. “It’s not going to get cheaper to run a PSAP in the next few years – it’s going to get much more expensive, so I think that’s part of why this council and many other councils in Oakland County are trying to be proactive.”
Councilman Ryan Bladzik
Bladzik said roughly 25-percent of what village taxpayers currently pay goes to maintaining the village’s dispatch center, and that necessary equipment, software, training and staffing requirements would boost it to more than 33-percent.
“There are other places and wiser places we can invest our money, and as much as I would love to keep dispatch, from an emotional and personal point-of-view, at $113,000, to contract with Oakland County, having toured their facility and having personal trust that our level of service will not diminish, that’s what I need to support,” he said before making the motion to contract 24/7 dispatch services to Oakland County.
Councilman George Kullis seconded his motion.
Councilman Bob Allsop said he felt council wasn’t taking enough time with the decision.
Councilman Bob Allsop
“I think if we give up – if we do this tonight and sell out the village people, I think that with our dispatch gone, we’re doomed,” he said. “I think this is totally wrong if you vote for this tonight – if you do this, you’re selling out the people.”
“Vote on it,” resident Larry Lilly yelled from the audience.
“Cut back on something else – some other stupidity, but keep our dispatch,” Allsop said, pounding his fist on the table.
Allsop urged council members to put off the vote for a year as $305,000 is currently budgeted for dispatch through July of 2014.
“No it’s not because the updates have not been made,” Hughes said. “As it stands, our system is out of standard, so what you’re telling me is that we can offer our community for $305,000, a substandard operation as opposed to a service for $113,000 that is on a whole different level.”
Councilman George Kullis
Kullis said he has given the matter countless hours of consideration. “When this thing started in March, I’m going to tell you, I was for saving dispatch,” he said. “But thanks to (former Councilwoman) Pauline Kenner and the people she brought to these meetings, they said it was about service – it was about protecting lives – it was about giving them the most for their money.”
Kullis said he had also toured the Oakland County Dispatch Center and was satisfied by what he saw. “This is about service and it’s about finance – we have been charged with the fiscal responsibility for this village, and we have been charged to protect and serve,” he said. “I’m sick and tired or hearing people say that we’ve done nothing and that we’re making a fast decision.”
In a vote of 5-2, Bladzik’s motion to outsource 24/7 dispatch services to Oakland County was approved with Allsop and Campbell casting the dissenting votes.
On Thursday, Kenner responded to Kullis’ comments. “Mr. Kullis knew that the seniors were in favor of saving Holly’s dispatch, and he misrepresented them with his comments prior to his vote,” she said. “He used the seniors to justify his vote, and many of them are very upset by it.”
Bladzik later made the motion to sell the village’s existing 911 equipment to Oakland County for $20,000. In a vote of 4-3, the motion passed with Allsop, Campbell and Councilman Chris Rankin casting the dissenting votes.
Clerk/Treasurer Cathy Behrens said the village is hoping to transition dispatch services over to Oakland County in late July or early August.