Police, Fire Chiefs Talk WestComm

LONGMEADOW, MA – Police Chief John Stankiewicz and Fire Chief John Dearborn met with the Select Board at its June 4, 2018 meeting to give an update on the WestComm regional dispatch center.

Introducing the chiefs, Town Manager Stephen Crane noted there were three main considerations during the discussion and planning for the regional 911 center – operations, year-to-year operating costs, and the five-year projected capital costs for Longmeadow’s on dispatch versus a regional dispatch.

Stankiewicz told the board Longmeadow’s dispatch costs amount to $223,987 in personnel alone, and including overtime, training, travel, retirement and other benefits, and system maintenance, dispatch accounts for $482,711 in expenses. Grants cover $51,398 of those costs, leaving the town with a liability of $431,313.

Stankiewicz projected a 10.4 percent increase in those costs over the next five years, meaning the town would be responsible for $509,228 to keep its current dispatch center running in fiscal year 2023.

Dearborn said Longmeadow has a “robust system” for a community of its size. The current radio system is interconnected between the Police, Fire, Deparment of Public Works, Emergency Management, and the School Department. Those capabilities would remain if the town stayed committed the Regional Emergency Communications Center.

“That was something we wanted to maintain with the RECC [Regional Emergency Communications Center]. We didn’t want to go backyards,” Dearborn said.

The current system is 10 years old with a 15-year lifespan, according to Dearborn, and while there have not been any major malfunctions with the system, the town has experienced what Dearborn called “performance issues.”

“At the time it was designed for the money that was available, it was the best that we could do … We currently have some areas in town, from a public safety perspective – they are unacceptable,” he explained, using the Western Avenue area near Interstate 91 and the Meadows area as examples of problem spots.

He also noted there were communication issues when personnel is inside buildings, and especially in basements. WestComm would allow for these gaps to be filled with improvements to existing communication tower sites in town.

Dearborn said the RECC would absorb the transmit and receive system, which he said was the “big ticket item,” while the town would maintain the portable radios used by departments such as Public Works and the schools, and those systems would still operate as normal.

Overall, Dearborn said, the town would save a projected $1.5 million in capital costs over the next five years. He explained with current system expenses, the town would be responsible for $1.8 million over that span, which includes an estimated cost for equipment and software upgrades in 2023. The WestMass integration would result in Longmeadow’s commitment to $305,300 in capital expenses over the next five years.

“These numbers that I’m providing you are based on all of the quotes we have gotten for actually building the RECC. We are not making them up,” Dearbord said, explaining the information is based on discussions with vendors with the RECC specifications in mind.

Finance Director Paul Pasterczyk told the board the FY19 budget for the RECC would be covered by the $2.5 million state grant for which an application has been submitted.

The town would realistically begin funding its portion of the RECC’s operations in 2020. According to a spreadsheet provided, in the meeting materials, Longmeadow’s assessment for the RECC would be $141,949, representing $17.7 percent of the total municipal contribution toward its operations after a $2.4 million grant from the state.

Selectman Mark Gold expressed concern in whether the grant funding would be stable, given recent drops in state reimbursement rates and grants in other areas.

Crane admitted it was a competitive grant process, so the amount of money was not guaranteed from year to year, noting that factored in East Longmeadow and Hampden’s decision to back out of the RECC. However, he said discussions with involved parties gave the WestComm Board of Directors and stakeholders confidence that the state was committed to regionalization of dispatch services.

– By Chris Maza