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Orion Township terminates Lake Orion Village fire dispatch contract

May 08, 2013 - By Dan Shriner

Review Editor

The Orion Township board voted Monday night to end the relationship with the Village of Lake Orion to provide fire and EMS dispatch services to township residents.

The move may prove be a death knell for the village's dispatch center, which has been looking to merge with the village of Oxford's dispatch later this year.

Orion Township board members also voted to have Supervisor Chris Barnett negotiate with Oakland Township to seek a dispatch agreement and come to the May 20 board meeting with a report and recommendation.

The township currently uses Oakland County's 911 Center for its police dispatch and appears headed to moving all dispatch services to Oakland County.

The contract between the township and village was scheduled to expire on December 31.

At the meeting Monday night, representatives from Oakland County Sheriff's Department and Lake Orion made presentations to the township board.

Currently, Lake Orion is charging Orion Township $91,800 annually for fire/EMS dispatch services. That amount subsidizes a good portion of Lake Orion's $273,228 budget for dispatch which also includes $177,472 from the village's general fund and $3,956 from 911 phone revenues.

Under the proposed new pricing for Orion Township, the township would pay about $46,000 beginning January 1, 2014 with two percent yearly increases until December 31, 2016.

According to interim Lake Orion Village Manager Darwin McClary, the savings and cost-reduction from $91,800 to $46,000 is possible because the village is anticipating a merger with Oxford Village's 911 service this year.

Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh told the Orion Township Board that the merger with Oxford would allow for two dispatchers to be in the 911 center to answer calls and dispatch to the two villages.

Currently, each community has one dispatcher on duty.

"In over 25 years, all calls have been answered and emergencies responded to," Narsh said about the time period that the village has answered 911 calls in the communities.

Adding an extra dispatcher through the merger would "increase the safety and efficiency in our communities," he said.

Last week representatives from both villages met in Oxford to discuss potential mergers of dispatch services.

At that meeting last week in Oxford, McClary said that if Lake Orion could not retain Orion Township as a customer then its days of providing dispatch services may be over. Please see Oxfordleader.com for a story about the meeting.

"If we are not able to keep Orion Township on board with our dispatching services, if they do decide at some point to go to Oakland County, that is going to put Lake Orion in a situation where we're going to have to get out of the dispatching business."

"It's simply going to price us out of being able to provide our own local dispatching," McClary told the Oxford village Council.

Representatives from the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, including undersheriff Mike McCabe, also gave a presentation to the Orion Township Board Monday night about its services and the costs.

The county's proposal was to charge $43,981 for fire/EMS dispatch services with increases of between two and three percent per year.

Oakland County currently provides fire dispatch services to 13 of the 28 fire departments in the county and 15 communities receive police dispatch services.

Oakland County has a shift leader, five dispatchers and seven call-takers and would add another employee if Orion Township decides to utilize their 911 services for fire/EMS services, according to Mel Maier, chief of emergency management operations for Oakland County.

Barnett noted that the township is not criticizing Lake Orion's dispatch and said, "the village has done a phenomenal job for us for years."

But, Barnett said, it is troublesome that when a resident calls on a cell phone from the township, that it is often sent to Oakland County's 911 service and if the call is for fire service or medical, the call must be transferred to Lake Orion for dispatch. Likewise, sometimes calls to the village must be transferred to the county, which causes slower response times.

Orion Township Fire Chief Robert Smith said he believed the county could do a better job because it had multiple dispatchers on duty and also because the county uses what is called horizontal dispatch while Lake Orion uses what is known as vertical dispatch.

In horizontal dispatch centers, such as Oakland County, there are individual responsibilities of call interrogation and radio dispatch functions. The call-taker follows key question protocols while the radio dispatcher listens, and at predetermined points during the questioning, dispatches the appropriate agency or responder. This system is more efficient.

Vertical dispatching makes each dispatcher responsible for a geographic care and requires that individual to handle all calls from start to finish. Centers using vertical dispatching often have backups when dispatchers are busy with several callers.

Barnett said the choice to go with Oakland County was difficult and that board members spent dozens of hours learning about dispatch and what was best for residents.

The board voted, 7-0, to end the contract with Lake Orion and then voted, 6-1, with Neil Porter voting "no," to authorize Barnett to negotiate with Oakland County about providing dispatch services for fire/EMS and to report back at the May 20 meeting.

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