Mich. town to merge police, fire dispatch with county

By Nico Rubello
Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal

CLINTON TOWNSHIP (Mich.) — Police dispatch in Clinton Township will be handled by Macomb County beginning next year, under a decision reached Dec. 17 by the township trustees.

The Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to approve a three-year intergovernmental agreement for regional emergency dispatch services.

Under the terms of the agreeme nt, the township will halt its own dispatching and begin contracting the county to take 911 calls around April 1, 2013, when the union contract for township police dispatchers expires. Fire dispatch would be moved at a yet-to-be-decided date in 2014.

After the changeover, police dispatch operations will move from the Clinton Township Police Department on Groesbeck to the county's current dispatching center off Elizabeth Road in Mount Clemens. Dispatching will then move to a county-owned, multi-milliondollar emergency communications center once the facility is operational, which is expected by this time next year. The communications center will be located within the Macomb County Department of Roads building on Groesbeck in Mount Clemens.

Once completed, the state-ofthe-art center will combine dispatching for the Macomb County Sheriff 's Office, Emergency Management and Communications Department and Department of Roads. Macomb County officials expect the center to be operational by this time next year.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, who fielded questions at the Dec. 17 meeting, said the county will be able to take in all of the township's police dispatchers, provided they reapply for their jobs and pass a civil service examination.

Under the county system, the dispatchers likely will receive a lower salary, and benefits would change. One dispatcher is expected to retire in February.

Clinton Township Supervisor Robert Cannon said merging dispatch operations will provide better 911 services to residents and businesses at a lesser cost. The move, he added, also will return firefighters to the streets, since the fire dispatch is currently manned by assigned firefighters. Most of the calls received by fire dispatch come from police dispatchers and alarm companies.

Once implemented, Macomb County finance projections report that the annual cost savings for the township could be around $415, 000, though that number is not set in stone.

Kathy DeYoung, president of the union representing the township's police dispatchers, said she was disappointed with the township board's decision.

During the meeting, union representatives outlined their own counterproposal, which suggested the township could save more by combining police and fire dispatch, while keeping both under township control and making use of part-timers and lower-tiered dispatchers with fewer benefits.

David Popovich, a dispatch shift supervisor and union negotiator for the Clinton Township Police Dispatchers Association, said consolidation with the county could mean losing a personal touch that exists with keeping dispatch in-house. He said township dispatchers have a geographic familiarity with Clinton Township landmarks, not to mention their familiarity with township firstresponders.

"You have a core group of people here that have done this job for a long time, that know this township inside and out," he said. "We offer something to the police officers (and) the firefighters that may get lost when you dump everybody into one big pot."

Those present at the Dec. 17 meeting also debated the merits of CLEMIS, the township's current computer-aided dispatch software system, versus the software they will use at the county level, New World Systems. The township's outdated 911 system also would need replacing within the next few years.

The county would assume any startup and training costs associated with the transfer.

Trustee Kenneth Pearl, who supported the proposal, noted that the township's revenue, both from property tax revenue and state revenue-sharing dollars, has decreased during the last few years.

"Regional cooperation is important," he said. "We're getting slammed by the state, and they're going to be directing grants to those entities that consolidate services.

"I think, with technology, you can move a mile down the road with those computers and those people and get the same results - maybe a little improved because you have more people working in one area, and they can help each other get through an emergency in one community or another."

Trustee Paul Gieleghem, who voted against the proposal, wanted the Board of Trustees to postpone a decision on consolidation until January, in order to obtain a clearer picture on the costs associated with the transfer.

"One of the things that I want to be able to do here is I want to make decisions based upon real numbers. I don't believe that truly has been presented," he said. "We've got a proposal. It's got some great vision to it. It's probably the direction you're going to see municipalities moving towards. But there's a lot of questions here."

Treasurer Bill Sowerby supported Gieleghem's motion to postpone, but the other four board members present did not. Trustee Joie West was not present.

The Clinton Township firefighters union also supported consolidating with the county.

Dispatch consolidation has been on Clinton Township's radar for about two years.

On Nov. 20, Sterling Heights became the first Macomb County municipality to decide to consolidate with the county. The city is slated to make the move in June 2014.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said, during his State of the County address, that the center could service any of Macomb's 27 municipalities, if they choose.

Mike Lauretti, a retired Eastpointe police chief, said consolidated dispatch works, pointing to a nearby example, the Southeast Regional Emergency Services Authority, which services Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores and Roseville. SERESA, however, differs in that it is an authority, while Clinton Township dispatchers would have to reapply for their jobs through the county.

"Consolidated dispatch is not a fly-by-night thing. It's a thing that's going to continue to creep into all of our communities," Lauretti, a former SERESA board member, said. "You're going to have to consolidate because of … the mere matter of cost. You cannot save money by doing it yourself. It's just an impossibility."

Copyright 2012 Mount Clemons-Clinton-Harrison Journal

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