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New Berlin advised to scrap dispatch center, join joint service

Consultant to present report on joining Waukesha County Communications Center to save money

March 12, 2012

New Berlin - A consultant is recommending that the city disband its dispatch center and use the Waukesha County Communications Center to handle calls for police and fire, a move the consultant says would save New Berlin and its taxpayers nearly $9 million over 10 years.

The consultant, Springsted Inc. of Milwaukee, is scheduled to present its report to aldermen and Mayor Jack Chiovatero at the Common Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

No decision will be made at the meeting, city officials said.

The city has been looking for ways to save money and hired Springsted to evaluate the city's options for dispatching police and fire calls.

The county's joint dispatch center began operations in 2004 and handles calls in 29 communities in Waukesha County. At the time the joint center was being created, New Berlin decided not to join, in part because the city had recently built a new public safety building that included a new dispatch center.

Springsted noted in its 44-page report that although the city operates its own dispatch center, New Berlin residents also help fund the operation of the county's center through annual property taxes they pay to the county. This year, city residents are paying $458,823 toward the county's center, the study says.

The city would have to pay a one-time buy-in fee of about $400,000 to join the county dispatch system, but there are no annual fees after that, according to a letter city Police Chief Joe Rieder distributed last week.

Rieder on Monday declined to comment about the study, saying he wanted to wait until after Tuesday's presentation.

The study notes that keeping its own dispatch center is a viable option for New Berlin. But it says the city will have to make a significant investment in the years ahead, including upgrading technology and adding staff. Some of the equipment is at or near the end of its life span, the study notes.

In 2014, the city will have to spend about $830,000 for equipment, including the next-generation 911 system. The study projects the city having to spend slightly more than $1 million for upgrades in 2022.

The city has 12 dispatchers and has budgeted nearly $1 million this year for dispatching operations.

"Obviously, I would - we all would - really like to keep our dispatch," Chiovatero said. "Our switch to WCC would pretty much be a financial issue. I honestly don't have a solid opinion yet. I'm waiting to see what the discussion is. If we decide to stay with our people - it's always preferred to do that - I need a commitment from council that they're willing to spend this money and willing to support it."

Tuesday's presentation in New Berlin has attracted interest from Waukesha officials, who are in the early stages of considering whether a move to countywide dispatch services could save the city money.

Waukesha's Finance Committee and other members of the Common Council plan to attend the New Berlin session Tuesday night, according to agendas for both. 

While New Berlin hired a consultant to study the issue, members of the Waukesha Finance Committee and Police Department so far have been looking into the issue on their own. Earlier this year, the Waukesha Finance Committee toured the county communications center as well as Waukesha's dispatch center.

Laurel Walker of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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