Published January 30. 2013 12:00PM Updated January 30. 2013 11:51PM
Waterford — The top elected officials from Waterford, East Lyme and New London formally agreed Wednesday to research whether they should create a regional dispatch center for fire, police and emergency medical services.
"We have to recognize that there are efficiencies to be had in services, and there is an economic focus as well," said Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward.
Each community agreed to assign project managers to a planning group that will explore options for technology solutions, governance, legal and financial structure, labor and management organization and policies and procedures.
East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica said the study will "determine once and for all if it's a good fit." He called the study a positive step.
New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said the communities already partner in other ventures, so creating a regional dispatch center would be a "natural fit."
"We are also keenly aware that Gov. Malloy has been encouraging communities to look towards regionalization," Finizio said.
The regional dispatch center would be located at the existing center in Waterford.
The three towns signed a grant application Wednesday to the Division of Statewide Emergency Telecommunications Transition for up to $750,000 for implementation and a $215,000 annual contribution if the project moves forward.
All three leaders emphasized that providing better services is the motivating factor.
The planning group is expected to present its findings to the towns by July 1. A "first draft" that explains the potential of the merger found that 20 people would be needed to staff a regional dispatch center. The three existing centers use a combined 21 full-time personnel.
The percentages of the operating costs would be based on the volume of calls for service in each municipality and calculated annually, the draft said. For example, if there are 100 calls and East Lyme is responsible for 23 of them, East Lyme's portion of the bill would be 23 percent.
Another recommendation is the formation of a limited liability company to operate the communications center.
"This does away with the perception that one municipality is working for another, or the feeling that one entity (i.e. the police) is running the center," the draft said.
A proposal raised early last year would have combined dispatch services for East Lyme and Waterford. The deal never came to fruition, in part because union dispatchers from East Lyme argued against the merger, which would have forced them to reapply for their jobs.
Formica said the study would look at how the unions would blend together. New London and East Lyme dispatchers belong to unions. Waterford's do not.
Finizio added, "No interest group should have a veto over good public policy."
The town of Montville recently unveiled its public safety complex, at which it hopes to house a regional dispatch center.
Steward said they would look at all options, including Montville, but added the study is looking at creating a dispatch center that would serve New London, Waterford and East Lyme.
In August, Waterford and New London agreed to share Waterford's emergency communications equipment, saving New London the expense of building its own system.
Waterford, which installed a $6 million state-of-the-art network several years ago, has the radio capacity to meet all of New London's needs. The signal from Waterford covers 95 percent of New London, with none of the dead spots that were part of the old system.
The contract, which runs through 2018, enabled New London to comply with federal narrow-banding radio requirements and strengthened public safety response times in New London, Finizio said in August. New London is to contribute to annual maintenance costs and purchase its own radios.