August 08, 2012 - Three of the Oxford Village Council's five members went on a two-and-a-half-hour tour of the Oakland County Sheriff's Dispatch Center last week as officials consider the possibility of switching from their local system housed on W. Burdick St. to the county-operated one in Pontiac.
"We were there for quite a while. They took us through virtually everything.," said Councilman Elgin Nichols, who visited the county facility with village President Tom Benner and Councilman Dave Bailey.
No one had a bad word to say about what they saw.
"I was very, very impressed," Nichols said. "They're really on top of the latest technology."
"It's definitely an eye-opening experience when you see the equipment they have, the rules that they have, the technology that's there to answer the phones so quickly and dispatch for so many communities," Benner said.
"It was much more impressive than the Power Point that we got previously from (the county)," Bailey said. "(Seeing it) live is always like that."
County representatives are scheduled to make a dispatch presentation to the council at its 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14 meeting. Council meets at 22. W. Burdick St.
Nichols was particularly impressed by the "fantastic amount" of electronic data storage the county dispatch center possesses and the fact that its dispatchers are tested on a monthly basis and at the end of the year, they undergo a "vigorous test."
"They've got some sophisticated equipment down there, there's no doubt about that," Benner said. "They've got a lot of people on staff. Covering over 30 communities, they need quite a few people. It was impressive."
"It was a good learning experience to see what the county does for other communities," the village president noted.
This reporter asked each council member who took the tour if they're leaning toward either contracting with county or keeping the local center.
"I'm kind of on the fence about it right now," Benner said. "I just want to take a look at all of our options."
One of Benner's big concerns is "what are we going to do with our (dispatch) equipment if we decide to make a move?"
He also wonders if this is a decision that should be voted on by village residents.
"There's a lot of things to take into consideration," Benner said.
In terms of being ready to actually vote as a council member on going county or staying local, Nichols said, "I'm not quite there yet."
"I'm very open either way," he said. "I like the idea of having our own (dispatch center) here, but I don't know if that's such an advantage."
"You have to bring in all the facts and look at it," Nichols continued. "It comes down to response, how effective is it going to be and how much is it going to cost?"
As far as the level of dispatch service county could provide, Nichols does not believe Oxford would be shortchanged if a switch was made.
"I don't see where the community is losing anything," he said. "If anything, they're gaining some services in a way."
In Nichols' view, the difference between the two systems "boils down to the matter of expense."
"If you're looking for tit-for-tat, you're not going to give up anything by going to the county other than you're going to have less expense," he explained. "If you were a businessman with a business, what would you do?
"Right now, knowing what I know, I don't see any negatives in changing it. I see a big positive in the cost. It's a whole lot less money."
According to Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe, county's price to dispatch the village's police calls would be "just over $27,000" annually.
To dispatch, all of the township and village's fire/EMS calls, which is currently done locally, would have cost $31,109 this year with a 2 percent increase for next year
"Let's say (the village's) dispatch went away . . . we would end up contracting with Oxford Township to do fire dispatch for them," McCabe explained. "It's a township department."
These figures are far less than what it currently costs to operate and maintain the village dispatch system.
As part of its 2012-13 budget, the village allocated $371,082 for dispatch services, of which $75,000 was for upgrades to the communications system. Of that $75,000, a total of $50,000 was contributed by the township as part of a lawsuit settlement.
The remaining $296,082 was for operations. Included in that amount is the $35,020 for 2012 which the village is charging the township to receive and dispatch fire/EMS-related calls.
Bailey admitted he favors staying with local dispatch.
"I've always been leaning toward local dispatch just as I've been leaning towards local policing and fire," Bailey said. "That's where I'm at currently."
"I have my own experience with their work," he explained. "I've seen them respond in less than a minute. Now, admittedly, I live real close to both the fire and the police stations."
The "experience" to which Bailey referred was him seeing some kids "playing in the street" and he feared for their safety, so he called village dispatch. "There was an officer there in less than 60 seconds," he said.
Despite his personal feelings, Bailey indicated it's "good to go through this process" of comparing county and local dispatch.
"It's been a number of years since we've done this," he said. "You've got to do it occasionally, just like you review the performance of a major employee every now and then."
Nichols believes anyone who's interested in the dispatch issue should really tour the county facility before making any judgments.
"There's some people that really can't understand what it's all about until they see it," he said. "Those people need to go. They need to look at it.
"If they're interested in the community at all, they need to take the time, they need to vest the interest and get all the facts."
Bailey is anxious for council to take a "formal tour" of the village's dispatch facility.
A council tour of the local center has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9.
"I expect that they can put on a pretty good show for us as well," he said. "I want to review our own dispatch as soon as possible while I've still got the tour of county fresh in my mind."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.