Multi-town emergency communications center proposed

Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend could have shared regional dispatch

David Stairs, Pepperell’s communications director, speaking in front of the Board of Selectmen about a proposed Regional Emergency Communications Center
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PEPPERELL – Three towns in the western Nashoba Valley area are looking to have one location overseeing all its emergency calls.

Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend are collaborating to establish a joint Regional Emergency Communications Center in town. The center was detailed in a presentation to the Board of Selectmen on late last month.

According to Town Administrator Andrew MacLean, Pepperell has been interested in establishing a joint center for some time. MacLean said that a center was being planned a few years ago, but they fell through after local residents didn’t approve of the center being in a location far away from town.

“I don’t think the community wanted to lose control of the center with it being so far away,” he added. “If it had gone to Ashby or Townsend, they would’ve supported it.”

David Stairs, Pepperell’s communications director, told the board the process started with the establishment of the Regional 911 Committee in September 2018 consisting of public safety and elected officials in the three towns. The committee later commissioned an independent feasibility study that concluded Pepperell and Ashby should regionalize its emergency communications, with Townsend joining up later.

“For the public safety officials for Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend, it was all about improved services,” he explained. “We have one dispatcher working primarily at all times. With a regional project, we’d have two on during the day and two on during the evening and one on reserve. Obviously, that is improved services.”

Stairs went on to explain the other benefits of the shared center, including the benefit of having one dispatch center for quicker responses to North Middlesex Regional School District that all three towns use and how the towns’ fire and police departments share operations already.

He also talked about the cost-saving benefits of having one joint center, explaining that the Massachusetts State 911 Department gives Pepperell $40,000 a year in grant money. If Pepperell regionalizes with a second town like Ashby, that grant money increases to $230,000. It could even increase to over $300,000 if Pepperell regionalizes with a third town like Townsend.

Stairs said the financial aspect of the center would be based on population, meaning Pepperell would have a share of about 78 percent and Ashby would have a share of about 21 percent. Though he admitted the cost-saving benefits wouldn’t be evident in the first year, Stairs said the savings would come into play down the road and offer a higher pay for dispatchers.

“I’ve already been planning this for a long time, I’ve already laid the groundwork for it,” Stairs said. “Ashby had a meeting last night and they want to move forward.”

If approved, the regional center will be located at the Pepperell Communication Center on Main Street. Stairs said that he hopes to have Ashby and Pepperell regionalize by July 1 this year and then Townsend would relocate its communication center to Pepperell by July 1, 2021.

“I would love your support moving forward,” he said. “The timeline is aggressive but I think I can make it work.”

The board praised Stairs for the thorough proposal, leading to a unanimous vote to sign a memorandum of understanding to move the process forward.

As communities look to trim costs through regionalization, dispatch centers are often first on the discussion table. For instance, Dracut and Tewksbury are combining dispatch services in a new building in Tewksbury.

IOther progressions announced at the board meeting include:

  • Brynn Montesanti, administrative assistant for the Pepperell Health Department, being announced as the new Town Clerk, set to start on Mar. 5.
  • Police Chief David Scott reporting that the town has received a $13,700 grant to offer training to public safety staff in Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby. The training would cover public safety on Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training and Active Attacker Integrated Response.
  • The revised plan for the proposed Town Field Walking Path will be going out to bid soon.