HOLLY, Michigan – An over-capacity crowd crammed Holly’s Village Chambers Tuesday night as council members once again considered outsourcing the village’s dispatch center to Oakland County.
Last month, council initially began discussing the possibility 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 outsources one 12-hour shift to Oakland County per day, or scraps dispatch services all together.
While most of the nearly 20 residents that took to the podium Tuesday night were against the notion of outsourcing, a few spoke in favor of it.
“Tonight is an opportunity for long-term change for the village,” village resident and businessman Tony Engelberg said. “The transferring of our dispatch, and I mean all of it – to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is something that I do not desire, but must support.”
Drawn to the “small town hospitality” offered by the village of Holly, Engelberg said he appreciates the personal relationships villagers have formed with local police, fire and EMS personnel. “I sympathize with those who have lived her longer than I have as they obviously have even deeper and longer lasting ties to these relationships and I recognize the fear they have when something like this might take one of those relationships away,” he said.
Village resident Laurie Lacey is vehemently opposed to outsourcing dispatch services, so much so, that she spent her own money to have 100 “Save Our Dispatch” signs printed and posted around the village.
“I am the one that bought the signs,” Lacey said, adding that she had doled out most of them to fellow residents asking if they could post them in their yards.
“There are a lot of people out there that share this opinion – it’s nothing political – it’s an opinion that they have about keeping dispatch for the people.”
Lacey she initially favored the 12-hour daily shift outsourcing to OCSD on a trial basis, but said when council began to consider totally outsourcing the services, her opinion changed.
“That’s a lot of peoples’ lives you’re affecting,” she said, adding that OCSD Undersheriff Mike McCabe’s prior comment that his agency is equipped to handle all aspects of the village’s policing raised a red flag.
“The last time when Mike McCabe was here, he said that he could also take over the policing – that’s where it upset me,” she said. “I talked to my insurance agent and if we lose so many things, our insurances on our properties will go up more than what any millage is – because we are between Pontiac, Detroit, Flint and Saginaw,” she added. “Criminals do know where there are unprotected people.”
Village resident and retired Holly police officer Buster Winebrenner also opposes the possibility of outsourcing dispatch services to Oakland County.
Winebrenner questioned whether Village Manager Jerry Walker knew what the exact cost would be to upgrade the village’s dispatch software and equipment to bring it completely in line with the equipment currently used by Oakland County dispatch.
“You don’t know yet, right?” Winebrenner asked Walker.
“No,” Walker replied.
“So why are we even talking about going with dispatch at Oakland County when we don’t even know what’s the cost factor of getting something repaired?” Winebrenner asked.
Following public comment, council prepared to consider outsourcing dispatch services to Oakland County.
“As previously discussed, the Sheriff’s Department has put forward two proposals based upon requests from the village as we looked at different options,” Walker said. “While this began as a fiscal situation – and money always plays a part in it because it is something that council has to consider, certainly efficiency and state laws and regulations also apply.”
Calling Holly’s dispatch center a “premier center” that provides “good service,” Walker said the problem lies in the fact that there is only one dispatcher working at a time.
“Laws and regulations require that if a dispatch center does emergency medical dispatch or emergency fire dispatch and there are incidents that require more than one dispatcher, that in fact they have more than one dispatcher in the room and trained,” he said. “It’s not like the old days where you can call an officer in off the road, or call the chief in out of his office to come take over dispatch – that is just one of the factors that you as a council certainly have to consider.”
The two options offered by OCSD are outsourcing village dispatch services 12-hours per day at a cost of $43,000 per year, or outsourcing dispatch services on a 24/7 basis at a cost of $113,000 per year, Walker said, adding that the village’s current dispatch budget is in excess of $300,000 per year.
Referring to a document he prepared for the council’s packets, Village President Jason Hughes said he contacted 22 of the 23 agencies that are currently contracting with Oakland County for police and/or dispatch services. Hughes said not all of the agencies are utilizing the county’s services yet, and that those who aren’t, recently signed agreements with the agency.
Hughes asked each agency if the county’s services have met expectations, if they have seen deterioration in going from local services to the county, and if they agencies would make their decisions again.
Although he didn’t get a response for all of the agencies, Hughes said approximately half of those polled responded and responded favorably.
“All of the responses were consistent – they were pleased with the services they have been receiving, and they would make the decision again, and that the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is an excellent body to work with,” he said.
“For the audience, it’s not like this is being done on a whim,” Hughes said. “It’s not like homework isn’t being done – we are researching this – we are taking our time and making sure we are crossing our ‘Ts’ and dotting our ‘Is.’”
Councilman Bob Allsop said he was in favor of waiting to make the decision about outsourcing dispatch services.
“This is my opinion, but I think we should wait until next year and make a final decision on this for the village residents,” he said.
Allsop’s comments were met with a thunderous round of applause from the audience.
“It’s paid for already, and then all of us can get together and do a special election, or go out and try to scrape up some money to keep it in our town,” he said. “That’s why I’m sitting up here – the police officers, the fire department, everybody is super here, and when I ran for council, I told them I would try to protect every one of them and that’s one of the reasons I did – I’m a citizen sitting up here on the council, and I’m trying to be them up here.”
“Was that a motion?” Hughes asked.
“Ah, yes,” Allsop said, with the support of Councilwoman Jackie Campbell.
Hughes said he would like to better understand how operations and administrative tasks in the police department will be handled, should dispatch eventually be outsourced to Oakland County, and how proper staffing would be achieved. “I also think we need to see some proposals and figures as far as what that would cost – it would be between administration and the department head to determine the methods to provide those services,” he added. “But in order to show a true cost savings, we need to see some of those figures as well before a decision can be made.”
Councilman Ryan Bladzik said he was not ready to vote on the matter. “When this appeared on the agenda tonight, I was not in any way ready to cast a vote in favor of moving dispatch to Oakland County at this point,” he said, echoing Hughes’ desire for more information on cost savings, as well as the intention of where the savings will go, should council eventually choose to outsource dispatch services.
“I believe 100 percent that between Mr. Walker and the Sheriff’s Department, that keeping our dispatch as it is – even though we have it this year – it is not sustainable for the future,” Bladzik said. “No I don’t have hard numbers, but I know the way technology works, I know the way that state regulations works – it is not sustainable.”
Bladzik rejected Allsop’s motion to keep dispatch services frozen for another year. “I’m concerned if we tie our hands now and say that we’re not going to do anything until the 14-15 budget year, we might lose positive opportunities that we can’t do anything about in the future,” he said.
In a vote of 5-2, Allsop’s motion failed, with Allsop and Councilwoman Jackie Campbell casting the two favorable votes.
In a voice vote, council unanimously directed Walker to provide more information on proposed operational changes, cost savings information, and a 3 -5 year cost projection for necessary equipment and software upgrades in Holly’s dispatch center for review in an upcoming meeting.