New Berlin aldermen want more time on fate of dispatch center

Consultant recommends city disband its center

May 22, 2012

New Berlin - Aldermen on Tuesday night said they need more time to make a decision on whether to disband the city's police and fire dispatch center and use Waukesha County's consolidated dispatching operation.

They said they have to weigh saving millions by switching to county dispatch against the loss of local control over some emergency services functions.

But Ald. John Hopkins suggested that the council make its decision soon, perhaps at its June 12 meeting.

Tuesday was the first time the council discussed the issue, after earlier receiving a report from a consultant that advised the city to disband its dispatch center.

A decision is needed soon, Police Chief Joe Rieder and Mayor Jack Chiovatero told aldermen, out of fairness to dispatchers. Some are already looking for jobs elsewhere, Rieder said.

However, Ald. Dave Ament said he was not ready to make a decision Tuesday night. He said it is a big decision for the city to make, as important as when the city decided to switch in 2001 from a volunteer fire department to a municipal department.

Ament said the community just wrapped up three public information meetings that Rieder held on the dispatch issue and the council needed more time weigh information gleaned from those sessions.

In March, the consultant recommended the city disband its dispatch center and use the Waukesha County Communications Center, a move the consultant says would save New Berlin and its taxpayers nearly $9 million over 10 years.

The city has been looking for ways to save money and hired Springsted Inc. of Milwaukee 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 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.

The study noted that keeping its own dispatch center is a viable option for New Berlin. But it said the city will have to make a significant investment in the years ahead. 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.

Rieder has been encouraging New Berlin to keep its local dispatch center. "Our officers and firefighters get a lot of advantage from our own dispatch center. Our dispatchers are able to look up names. They're able to farm information and do a lot of the administrative investigative work for some of the officers while they are out on the street," Rieder said in April.

The City of Waukesha also considered disbanding its dispatch center and merging with the county's to save money but aldermen. The Waukesha Common Council on May 15 voted to keep its police and fire dispatch services in-house for now, but to leave the door open to future collaboration with Waukesha County and its consolidated dispatch center.

Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack had urged the council to reject consolidation.

He said a study, which included interviews with other county customers and with county dispatchers and a massive public records review, concluded that any saving realized by consolidation would be more than offset by the loss of local control and quality of services to city residents.

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