March 20, 2009 Salem News Article

Public invited to sound off on dispatch center

By Ethan Forman
Staff writer

DANVERS — North Shore residents and local officials are invited to sound off on a plan to create a $6.8 million regional emergency 911 call center in Middleton to serve 13 area communities.

The public meeting is planned for tomorrow at 9 a.m. in Holten Richmond Middle School, 55 Conant St., in the multipurpose room on the second floor.

A consultant to the Essex County Sheriff's Department, Thomas Dubas, who heads up a regional dispatch center in Lackawanna County, Pa., is scheduled to be on hand to answer questions about how such facilities operate.

The idea for a regional dispatch center in Essex County dates back to 2005, Danvers police Chief Neil Ouellette said.

The process came one step closer to fruition last summer when the state passed a 75-cent surcharge on land lines and cell phone service, with the money to be used to bolster 911 resources.

Communities applied for state grants in December and, on March 11, a consortium of 13 communities in Essex County was awarded $4.94 million to build the center, with a commitment from the state to fund the rest of the $6.8 million cost.

The enhanced 911 center would provide emergency police, fire and ambulance dispatch to Danvers, Essex, Manchester, Methuen, North Andover, Topsfield, Hamilton, Wenham, Beverly, Ipswich, Marblehead, Middleton and Swampscott.

It would be built on state property adjacent to the Sheriff's Department at Middleton Jail on Manning Avenue. The Sheriff's Department would manage the center.

The need for public support is important, Ouellette said, as towns must vote on whether to enter into an intergovernmental agreement to create the center and pay for its operations. In Danvers, that would take a vote of Town Meeting.

The timing of the grant announcement did not give officials much time to inform residents and local officials.

"As soon as we knew we had the grant, we had to hit the ground running," Ouellette said.

If Danvers doesn't join, the town will have to replace its outdated communications equipment housed in a cramped room in the Police Department. Ouellette did not have that cost available yesterday.