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Tuesday, August 20 News

Board of Finance approves $2.8 million for joint dispatch center

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield and its neighbor Westport are inching closer and closer to running a joint dispatch center together at Sacred Heart University as some numbers and costs are still being negotiated.

“We see an opportunity to combine forces, garner state funding...and everything is coming together and I think we’re good to go,” Police Chief Chris Lyddy said at the Board of Finance meeting June 4.

Fairfield’s emergency communications center for fire, medical and police services is currently located in the basement of the police department, a flood zone. The emergency center dates back to 1990 and equipment is nearing the end of its lifetime, according to police.

Westport currently has two dispatch centers, one at police headquarters and another at the fire department.

Board members asked about operational aspects and how this would work with the Westport forces.

“Based on what it’s costing us to run the ECC now versus what you’re projecting it’s going to cost in a given year, where do we stand?,” Board member Jim Walsh inquired.

Police Deputy Chief Donald Smith said that while operational costs are still being negotiated, the police department is expecting $50,000 in savings a year compared to current ECC costs which according to budget documents are at $1.6 million this fiscal year.

Included in the agreement, the ECC would be under operational control of the town of Fairfield and operational costs would be split with Fairfield covering two-thirds of the cost and Westport the remaining third.

Fairfield and Westport, according to the bonding resolution, are presently negotiating on establishment and operational aspects of the dispatch center.

The $2.89 million appropriation for setting up the ECC at the university includes capital costs relating to information technology, renovations, outfitting and contingency.

According to a capital cost-share breakdown, both towns would split a $500,000 state grant.

Sacred Heart University is leasing the space -- the first floor of the East Building at 3135 Easton Turnpike -- to the town for 12.5 years at an annual rate of $1 per year.

The Board of Finance, in an 8-0 vote where member David Becker abstained, approved the $2.8 million allocation.

The chiefs noted that the center can dispatch both Westport and Fairfield forces and an board comprised of people from both towns would oversee operations. The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the million-dollar allocation back in May.

In previous reporting, Westport Police Department Chief Foti Koskinas has said that a joint dispatch center is “something we should have done a long time ago.”

In a letter dated May 21, First Selectman Mike Tetreau wrote to Westport First Selectman James Marpe about entering into an agreement covering the operation of the joint dispatch center.

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“The Chief Operational Officer of the ECC shall be a Fairfield Police Captain,” the letter, signed by both town leaders May 21, includes.

According to police and fire department officials, towns with a population larger than 40,000 receive subsidies from the state toward dispatch centers. Westport, whose population nears 30,000, would benefit from said funds upon joining forces with Fairfield.

“They’re all going to become Fairfield employees,” Smith said regarding those who work at the future dispatch center. “Operationally, the town of Westport and Fairfield are going to work together...so that we have an efficient operation.”

Humberto J Rocha|Reporter

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