June 9, 2009 Salem News Article

City takes first step for regional dispatch center

By Paul Leighton
Staff writer

June 09, 2009 12:26 am

BEVERLY — The city took the first step last night toward joining other North Shore communities to form a regional emergency dispatch center.

The City Council's Legal Affairs Committee voted 3-0 to authorize Mayor Bill Scanlon to commit the city to the regional center, which would be built on state-owned land next to Middleton Jail.

The full council must still vote on the matter next week, but most councilors expressed support for joining the dispatch center. Scanlon said the move would save the city $300,000 per year.

"I understand the natural reluctance of people in New England to change almost anything," Councilor Wes Slate said. "We tend to be very parochial. But why anyone wouldn't look at regionalization is beyond me."

Beverly is the second largest of the 13 communities that have expressed an interest in joining the regional center, said Joe McGowan, a lawyer with the Essex County Sheriff's Department, which would oversee the center. Methuen is the largest.

The center would have 12 people on duty at any one time, McGowan said. Dispatchers would have access to a sophisticated computer mapping system to identify locations. The system could also help firefighters by showing a building's floor plan or the location of hazardous materials, he said.

Council President Tim Flaherty asked if dispatchers would be aware of the nicknames for neighborhoods and locations used by local residents. McGowan said that information could be added to the system.

The city would pay about $650,000 per year to be a member of the dispatch center. That's more than $300,000 less than the $960,000 the city now pays for its separate fire and police dispatch operations, Scanlon said.

Danvers Selectman Keith Lucy, who has been vocal about his opposition to the dispatch center, was also invited by the City Council to speak. Lucy said the $5 million price tag to build the center, which the state has agreed to pay, is too high.

"I have to ask why," he said. "I still haven't gotten a satisfactory answer."

Fire Chief Richard Pierce dismissed Lucy's criticisms. He said the concept for the regional center was created by public safety officials, not by a "part-time politician."

"I've been out there at fires at 3 in the morning, and I've never seen (Lucy) out there giving me advice and telling me what I need," Pierce said. "I know what I need. We need to catch up with the rest of the country. This is a great project."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at pleighton@salem news.com.

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