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Upgrade or county? Albensi wants disptach question settled before any money’s spent

by CJ Carnacchio

May 01, 2013

Consideration of a proposal to begin the process of upgrading Oxford Village's outdated 9-1-1 dispatch system included some discussion as to whether the municipality could contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

"This might not be something that people want to hear or (are) even willing to say, but I still think the option on the table to contract out our dispatch services is a viable option," said village President Tony Albensi during the April 23 council meeting.

Albensi brought up the subject because he doesn't want the village to spend money upgrading its system right now when the future of the local dispatch center isn't clear.

"I think that it's still unknown – at least it's unknown in my mind – what we're going to be doing with our dispatch services," he said.

The Traverse City-based Municipal Services Consulting (MSC) submitted a proposal to the village to provide consulting and project management services for the dispatch upgrades.

MSC would formulate the request for proposals from vendors; solicit, evaluate, negotiate and recommend bids; and be responsible for managing the project, including installation and training.

MSC divided its proposal into three parts.

Part 1 would consist of helping the village upgrade its dispatch technology for $14,350.

Part 2 deals with helping the village with the potential "consolidation" of its dispatch system with Lake Orion's center for $9,250.

Part 3 would consist of getting the village dispatch center prepared for the eventual transition to the "NG-911 Telephone System," a state-of-the-art system that's still two to five years away from being implemented in the state. The cost for MSC's services for this part would be $11,200.

MSC's quoted prices are for consulting/management services only. They do not include any hardware or software costs.

Council's consideration at this point was limited to Part 1 because the village must complete its technology upgrade by Dec. 31 based on its dispatch services contract with Oxford Township.

As part of a previous legal settlement, the township gave the village $50,000 for the express purpose of upgrading its dispatch equipment. The township has a vital interest in how the village center functions because it receives all of the township's 9-1-1 calls and dispatches those that require fire/EMS services.

"What you're faced with today is you have an obsolete 9-1-1 system as many agencies throughout the state of Michigan have," explained MSC representative Max Machuta, who presented the proposal to council.

The village has $95,000 budgeted for this upgrade, which includes the township's $50,000 contribution.

But Albensi doesn't want to spend any money until council has officially determined whether it wants to continue maintaining a village-based dispatch center or contract for those services through the county.

"Is that money (something) council wants to spend right now with that unknown out there?" he asked. "Do we want to spend this money if that (county) option is still on the table?"

Albensi made it clear where he stood on the issue. "Contracting with the county is a viable option that would provide us $200,000 in savings, while still providing our citizens with the level of service that they've grown accustomed to," he said.

"I don't think the level of service would be affected at all, in my opinion," Albensi continued. "When people call 9-1-1, they're more concerned about a quick response than where the person's sitting. The response that they would get from the county would be just as good as the response they would get from their local dispatch center."

The savings that the village could realize from county loomed large in Albensi's thinking. "I still think (the dispatch) fund could be cut substantially," he said.

Right now, the proposed 2013-14 budget for the village dispatch center is $368,300. But that includes the $95,000 for upgrades, so the actual operating cost is projected to be $273,300. "I just don't know if we're serving our taxpayers properly by spending that amount when we could easily have the same service for a much, much, much smaller amount," Albensi said.

When they addressed council last year, sheriff's representatives told officials they could handle all of the village's police calls for $27,580 in 2013 and $28,130 in 2014.

The county's cost for handling Oxford's fire/EMS calls, from both the township and village, would be approximately $31,000 annually, depending on the number of calls.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The above price quote from county, given in August 2012, for dispatching Oxford's fire/EMS calls is no longer accurate due to an increase in the number of calls handled by the fire department. Based on current figures, if the county were to dispatch all Oxford's fire/EMS calls, it would cost $40,785 for this year. That's based on the county's current per-call price of $24.96 multiplied by 1,634 calls, which is the average of the total number of calls (4,902) between 2010 and 2012. Undersheriff Mike McCabe confirmed the two prices quoted in August 2012 for dispatching the village's police calls are still valid.]

The township, through the fire budget, is expected to pay the village $36,071 this year and $37,153 next year for handling these calls.

Oxford Village is in the process of exploring ways its dispatch center could collaborate with the one operated by the Lake Orion Village Police Department.

Albensi said he was "excited" about the potential collaboration at first, but now, "I'm not sure it's going to give us the savings that we would need in that particular fund."

An analysis of a potential Oxford/Lake Orion dispatch "consolidation" was conducted last year by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). It concluded that such a collaborative effort "appears to be viable and offers the communities over $100,000 in savings from efficiencies."

Although she indicated she didn't wish to engage in a village-versus-county dispatch debate, Councilwoman Sue Bossardet made it clear where her loyalties lie.

"It's no secret that I support (retaining) our dispatch center," she said.

However, Bossardet did offer some advice. "My only cautionary note is that you have to have a plan," she said. " And I have not heard any plan . . . Just getting rid of the (local) dispatch is not a plan."

Council ultimately decided to set aside making any decisions regarding MSC's proposal for a period no longer than 90 days.

Officials wanted to give the Oxford/Lake Orion dispatch collaboration committee a chance to meet and review the proposal.