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Village may be forced to disband its dispatch center

May 15, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

The Village of Lake Orion may be a future customer for police, fire and EMS dispatching services, which would mean the end of the village's dispatch center.

After Orion Township rejected Lake Orion's proposal on May 6 to continue using Lake Orion's fire and EMS dispatch, Lake Orion might not have the financial capabilities to continue using their own dispatch, or to develop a proposed consolidation with Oxford next year.

"We are going to continue talking with them to see if we can make the numbers work, but that is a big question mark for us right now," said Interim Village Manager Darwin McClary about a proposed consolidation of dispatch services with the Village of Oxford.

Orion Township will pay the remaining $45,800 owed to the village for the current contract, which is $91,800 per year, and expires on December 31.

Under the proposal rejected by Orion Township last week, Lake Orion offered to provide fire and EMS service for $46,000, down from the $91,800 paid this year, while Oakland County offered to provide the service for $43,981 per year.

Oakland County already provides police dispatch and police services to Orion Township.

For the village, losing almost $100,000 in revenue out of a budget of $1.4 million is a loss of a substantial amount of money, McClary said.

"We won't be making up that revenue shortfall. We will have to look at ways to reduce expenditures whether that is through collaboration with Oxford or contracting with another agency," he said. Collaboration now "looks more challenging from a financial perspective."

The village had also asked the township to hold off on any decisions until before June 30, the last day to give the village their six month notice to terminate, so they could try to prepare a definite agreement with the Village of Oxford to consolidate.

Township Supervisor Chris Barnett said they notified the village in February they were considering other options.

"We didn't need more time to make the decision, and at the end of the day we wanted to give them the most time as possible because we knew they were in their budget cycle," he said. "So we thought we were doing a good thing giving them as much notice as possible."

The township has been researching the possibility of switching to the county dispatch services since December, toured the facility Feb. 7, and notified the village on Feb. 15 they were looking at other options, including continuing with the village.

There also seemed to be some displeasure earlier this year among township officials about paying $91,800 annually for fire and EMS service to Lake Orion when neighboring Oxford Township was paying about $39,000 for fire and EMS service from Oxford Village.

That was one of the reasons Orion Township sought to find more affordable service.

"Once our board toured the county dispatch center, some members of our board wanted to give them the six months notice then," Barnett said.

Orion Township will assess the Oakland County report and recommendation for dispatch services at the May 20 board meeting.

Contracting with Oakland County for fire and EMS—like the township is seeking— is not out of the question for the village, McClary said.

If the village became a customer and contracted with another agency, they would save a substantial amount of money but noted quality dispatch is still a top priority.

Still, the village is disappointed the township chose the county over a local unit.

"The township chose to go with the Oakland County Sheriff for dispatching for a mere $2,000 in cost savings over what we were proposing, so its unfortunate that $2,000 made that much difference," McClary said.

Barnett said it was not just about the money, but also about the health and welfare for the community.

"It goes without saying has village has done a phenomenal job with our fire dispatch for many, many years," he said, "But at the end of the day when we did our research we found out the system at Oakland County is so much more robust, you can't even compare the systems."

The township looked at Rochester Hill's merging with the county as an example.

"Their average response time went down three minutes when they contracted with the county. When your mom is blue and her heart is stopped, three minutes could mean the difference between her living and dying."

There also is the difference between vertical and horizontal dispatching. Vertical dispatching, used in Lake Orion, makes each dispatcher responsible for a geographic care and requires that dispatcher to handle all calls from start to finish. Backups and persons put on hold are more common with vertical dispatch.

Horizontal dispatch, used in Oakland County, uses an individual for call interrogation and another for radio dispatch. This system is more efficient, according to Orion Township officials.

Police Chief Jerry Narsh of the Village of Lake Orion said that their current fire and EMS dispatching service is very manageable for the amount of fire and EMS calls they receive in a day, which are about four.

The local dispatcher taking that caller almost instantly knows their address and location, he said. "They know that it's a station one response or a station three almost instantly."

He also noted other differences..

"Our proposal was to have two dispatchers for two communities as opposed to what would be three dispatchers for 15 communities," he said. He said he understands why Oakland County uses a different system to manage about 250,000 callers a year, compared to the thousands the village sees.

"A lot of folks in this community know our dispatchers by name, know them by shift, and it's a blanket of comfort and protection that has been afforded all township residents since 911 started," he said.

Barnett said he understands village personnel are upset.

"Unfortunately you can't take this stuff personal, and I don't. I understand the way they feel, and that their feelings are hurt. But at the end of the day my job is to look out for the interests of 35,000 citizens. It might not be the right decision for the village, but it is for the greater community," Barnett said.

The village will continue to identify all the possible options for dispatching service, with the likelihood of purchasing services from an outside agency. That would mean closing down the village's dispatch service.

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