Regional dispatch centers remain a controversial subject across the state, especially among communities that have considered, rejected or accepted this cost-saving and safety-enhancing concept.
In towns like Chelmsford, concerns over control, local knowledge and job security trumped advantages that come with a department specifically dedicated to delivering immediate public-safety assistance, bolstered by up-to-date training and state-of-the-art equipment, subsidized by the commonwealth.
Other communities recognized the benefits. Ayer and Shirley combined communication duties several months ago, operating out of the Ayer station. Dracut and Tewksbury will share a new regional emergency communications center.
Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori said a planned 6,500-square-foot, single-story building, next to the Department of Public Works building on Whipple Road, will have space for seven dispatchers around the clock. There will be room for two more dispatchers, should another town join.
A less formal setup in Groton has police answering 911 calls and providing dispatch services for Dunstable.
And now Pepperell, which terminated a tentative agreement to become part of that Tewksbury center in 2017, has decided to give regionalization another look. It approached the town of Ashby last year about combining resources with Townsend.
Ashby took the first step last week, when selectmen signed a letter of support and approved an application to the state District Local Technical Assistance program. Grant money would fund a study of cost, staffing and equipment.
According to Ashby Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Haines, the town runs dispatch with some state funding. But, “The state has been putting pressure on small towns to put services together,” Haines told the newspaper.
Pressure is probably too strong a word. However, it’s clear the commonwealth has encouraged suburban and rural communities to investigate the advantages.
This proposed lineup makes more geographic and economic sense. Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend share education costs for the North Middlesex Regional School District.
Sharing the public-safety burden would seem a logical next step. We’re certain Ashby’s feasibility study will arrive at the same conclusion.
Selectmen and other town stakeholders should investigate the experiences of the approximately 20 such centers already operating across the state.
They’ll probably find — as Dracut and Tewksbury did — that sharing dispatch enhances public safety.
For similar-sized communities, joining a regional dispatch center saves dollars and makes sense. Concerns about personnel unfamiliar with another community don’t square with reality. Every town still will employ dispatchers; they’ll just be working out of a regional facility.
Going it alone compromises both a community’s bottom line and the well-being of its residents. That’s too high a price to pay.