Government officials throughout Merced County have been mulling over the possibility of consolidating dispatch services — a move that would save thousands of dollars, but could cut local knowledge that some dispatchers have in smaller communities.
The Merced County Association of Governments is heading the effort to explore a centralized dispatch. Hub Walsh, county supervisor and chairman of the MCAG governing board, said the arrangement is still in its initial stages.
Studies are in the works to see how much savings the proposal would bring to various departments in the county. First, MCAG has to see who's on board with the idea.
"It's nothing immediate," Walsh said. "We're trying to see what municipalities might be interested in exploring the possibility."
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Consolidating dispatch services doesn't necessarily mean layoffs will follow, he said. "In the county that we looked at, which is Santa Cruz County that's done this, no one lost employment," Walsh said.
Several municipalities have expressed interest in taking a closer look at consolidation but are waiting for the study to be completed before jumping on board, he said.
"It's good for us to take a look at possibilities and options, and that's really what we're exploring," Walsh said.
A 2005 study showed that consolidating services would save $700,000 to $750,000 across all county jurisdictions, said Marjie Kirn, deputy executive director of MCAG.
Sheriff Mark Pazin had initiated consolidation in 2004, but police chiefs throughout the county decided not to get involved, said deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman.
Nevertheless, the department moved forward with a centralized communication center, MacKenzie added. It hasn't been built and is still in the works, but having other departments join in on the joint dispatch center would improve efficiency.
With money tightening up for all local governments, consolidation is becoming a much more attractive option than it was in 2004.
So far, city councils in Merced, Gustine, Dos Palos and Los Banos have given approval to move forward with consolidation, Kirn said.
Interim Chief Frank Pietro of the Atwater Police Department recently gave a oral report to the City Council about the movement, and said he'll give another report in 30 days before the council decides whether to get involved in the endeavor.
Interim Chief Chris Soria of the Livingston Police Department said the idea could work, but a lot depends on how the centralized communication center is run.
In Livingston, however, dispatchers have collected a lot of local knowledge about the small city and are connected with the community. "Our dispatchers know what's going on," Soria said. "We know the people — that's where we'd lose."
More data will be gathered in the near future to see what it would take to consolidate dispatch centers, including cost analysis.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.