AYER – The Ayer Board of Selectmen disclosed the terms of memorandum of agreement (MOAs) with both the emergency dispatchers and police superior officers unions.
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand announced at the July 17 selectmen’s meeting that terms were reached with the dispatchers on Friday, July 13. The town’s negotiating team consisted of Pontbriand, Police Chief William Murray, Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon and selectmen Christopher Hillman and Pauline Conley.
“This was no small task,” said Pontbriand. There were eight formal sessions with the dispatchers and “probably a dozen” strategy sessions for the negotiating team as well as one involving the collective Board of Selectmen.
Negotiations with the dispatchers were “unique compared to other contracts this year,” said Pontbriand. It’s in large part because the dispatchers are undergoing a “significant change of work situation.”
As of July 1, emergency dispatchers are required, through a federal mandate, to provide emergency medical dispatch (EMD) assistance to callers. All of Ayer’s dispatchers have completed the training, said Pontbriand.
For example, Pontbriand said if he’d called 9-1-1 to seek assistance for Hillman in the event he were choking, the dispatchers would immediately call for an Ayer ambulance. But “now they’re required to stay on the phone with me as a caller to walk or talk the person through emergency medical procedures” like CPR, the Heimlich Maneuver, or the proper use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
“It ties them up longer, they have to stay on the phone, and it’s potentially more responsibility than they already have,” said Pontbriand who was quick to add, “They do a spectacular job.” Adding the EMD aspect to the job also opens dispatchers up to “potential litigation or challenge if something went wrong.”
In the next six months, dispatchers will also be performing added duties for firefighters responding to incidents, said Pontbriand.
The dispatcher MOA terms are for a 3-year contract. Though a maximum cap $70,000 was authorized by the selectmen in executive session on June 12 for the team to broker a multi-year agreement, the terms totaled $52,650, which is $18,000 less than the approved cap.
There will be zero percent in terms of a wage increase in this Fiscal Year 2013, but wage re-openers are available in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. There will be an added $75 stipend for full time dispatchers due to the added EMD and Fire dispatching duties (or $37.50 a week for part time dispatchers).
The total financial impact is $17,550 a year, which is significantly less costly than the talk floated during negotiations of adding 1-2 new dispatchers. With health benefits, added staff “would have exceeded $52,000 easily,” said Pontbriand.
There were other changes agreed to in the MOA that had little or no financial impact on the town, said Pontbriand.
Muldoon said the dispatchers’ opening position was to request $170,000 for the added EMD duties. “That’s where we started.” The number was whittled down significantly. “It was tough getting to that number but I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Conley said she’s recently heard a dispatcher handling an EMD call while simultaneously receiving a radio message from a patrolman. The dispatcher told the officer to wait for a moment. “I’m on an EMD call. You could hear the stress because she had a non-responsive person on the other end [of the phone] and was trying to juggle everything.”
Conley said it “wasn’t farfetched” for the union to request 2-dispatcher staffing round-the-clock. Conley said she’s heard of two EMD calls since July 1. “You can’t predict what will happen. The patrolmen and the management team will have to back them up when they’re on an EMD call because they cannot get off that call.”
Hillman said “this was a long, hard negotiation. We started out a zillion miles apart. It’s a credit to the team.” During talks with the dispatchers, Hillman said “there was a lot of respect back and forth.” With the changed work duties, Hillman said “I think this is a fair number.”
Selectman Frank Maxant said it “seems to be the only multi-year contract we’re entering into” at a time that everyone’s “skittish” over finances. Maxant said it’s clear the “negotiating team on both sides was able to establish that trust. Thank you to everyone who was part of that.”
The dispatchers ratified the MOA on Monday. The MOA stretches through June 30, 2015.
MOA terms were also reached on June 26 when the selectmen voted in executive session to enter into a 1-year contract with the superior police officers union. The town was represented by the same negotiation team, except John Kilcommins represented the Finance Committee on those talks.
“In compliance with the Open Meeting Law,” Pontbriand said the board needed to vote to accept the MOA terms in open session when the agreement “becomes a public record.”
The senior officers’ MOA includes a 2 percent pay increase in Fiscal Year 2013. The senior officers ratified the terms on June 27.
The selectmen voted 4-1 to approve the MOA with the senior patrolmen. The sole ‘no’ vote was from selectman Gary Luca. “I voted against it in executive session. I don’t think it’s a good deal for the town.”
Luca said while the negotiating team “did a good job,” it was “given no direction” which Luca said was “the fault of this board. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s a god deal for the town but I will support is as a board.”
–SHOULD AYER JOIN THE DEVENS REGIONAL DISPATCH CO-OP?
Luca said it may be good for the town to consider anew joining the regional emergency dispatch center being built on Barnum Road on Devens. Harvard, Lunenburg, Lancaster and Devens are on board for the regionalization venture spearheaded by MassDevelopment.
“If it can reduce costs here in Ayer, why not look at it?” said Luca. “There may be more costs coming down the line. If we can share the costs with other towns, we should look at that.”
Chairman Jim Fay agreed, stating “it’s not just the capital cost but the cost of training this can be a very costly venture it could save a town a goodly sum of money.”
Maxant said there’s “no question we have to be concerned with costs,” but warned “we should not let ourselves be blind-sighted.”
Maxant said dispatching is analogous to using an internet-based map like MapQuest. “I’ll zoom in to get as close a look as I can. With a dispatcher, you want to be zoomed in as close as you can. A regional dispatch can’t do that That’s my first knee-jerk reaction.”
“I’m actually going to agree with Frank,” said Hillman. “I’m open to kicking the tires on anything” but “I also like the fact that when I call the police department there’s somebody down there.”
Hillman was torn. “I’m open to anything that can possibly save the town money and work well with us, so I guess I’m on both sides of the fence. They’re good people down there.”
“It’s certainly nothing against the dispatchers down there,” said Luca. “It’s just the overall costs”
“I agree with Frank,” said Fay. “When you say ‘regional,’ you say good-bye to control. I don’t think the town wanted to do that. But when you talk collaboration and shared costs it’s worth taking a look at the cost and asking the question again- is it worth it or should we give up control for the sake of cost savings?”
No, said Board of Health and Capital Planning Committee member Mary Spinner, who is a retired nurse.
A year and a half ago during a snap snow storm, her friend, the late Lola Parlon, tried to call Spinner’s house. “She couldn’t get me.” Parlon called the Ayer Police Department dispatchers.
Officer James Wilson came right up and “saw that I was alright but knee-deep in snow.” Wilson told dispatch to call Parlon back “and say I’m alright. I like the personal touch that we have here.”
Follow Mary Arata at Twitter.com/maryearata and Facebook.com/mary.arata.