standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — Dispatch services currently handled by personnel at both the Westerly Ambulance Corps and the Westerly Police headquarters would be centralized at the police station under a proposal being floated by Town Manager J. Mark Rooney.

Rooney discussed the idea with the Town Council Thursday during its second workshop on his proposed $98.28 million combined general government and education budget for 2019-20. The council authorized Rooney and Chief of Police Shawn Lacey to begin discussions on the proposal with the ambulance corps.

Under the current setup, fire and other non-police calls are dispatched by personnel at the ambulance corps, while dispatchers at the police department handle police calls. The ambulance corps is seeking $75,000 as its annual subsidy from the town, double the $37,500 it received in the current budget.

More than half of the request, $50,000, would be used to help cover the cost of upgrading dispatch center radio consoles at the ambulance corps' Chestnut Street headquarters. Rooney estimated the total cost of the new dispatch center at $250,000.

Rooney said that his proposal "would help the residents by avoiding having  to pay the duplicative cost of two dispatch centers."

The police dispatch center was upgraded to a state-of-the-art level in 2017 and has the capacity to handle ambulance and fire calls, Lacey said. "It's not uncommon for police to take the 911 over," Lacey said.

If the proposal takes effect, the police department would likely increase its dispatch center staffing from the current level of one full-time and one part-time employee per shift to two full-time dispatchers per shift, Lacey said. The added cost would easily be covered by revenues from fire departments that pay for dispatch services, Lacey said. The revenues would exceed the cost of running a centralized center, according to Lacey. "Actually, it would be a moneymaker," Lacey said.

Dispatchers who currently work at the ambulance corps would be considered for positions at the police dispatch center, Rooney said.

The council also backed Rooney's plan to move the animal shelter back into the public safety section of the general government budget. At former Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy's behest, the shelter was designated as an enterprise fund — a governmental function that provide services for a fee and is generally self-supporting. Rooney said the shelter has never been been self sustaining and is not likely to be.

Under Rooney's plan, one animal shelter position would be eliminated, reducing the shelter's budget to about $247,000 per year. The council asked Rooney to review his proposal with Town Attorney William Conley. 

The council is scheduled to continue its review of the proposed budget during a meeting scheduled for Saturday morning at 9 in the Municipal Courtroom at Town Hall.

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