In the absence of Chair Christine Joy, Vice Chair Mark Russo took on the role of acting chair during the Monday, Feb. 10, Plympton Board of Selectmen meeting. The meeting began with Russo, Selectman John Traynor, Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy, the entire Plympton Finance Committee, Plympton former Police Chief Patrick Dillon, Duxbury Fire Chief Kevin Nord, Duxbury Fire Captain Rob Reardon, and Director of Emergency Communications at the Regional Old Colony Communications Center (ROCC) Mike Mahoney seated around a table.
Russo explained that the purpose of the meeting was to address Plympton’s increasing dispatch fees with the ROCC. Plympton’s fees recently increased from $50,000 to $200,000 annually. Russo said that they were hoping to get a better sense of where those increases came from as well as how call volume was being assessed.
Reardon began by explaining a little bit about the history of Plympton joining the regionalized dispatch center. About six years ago, Chief Dillon approached them with problems he was experiencing with their current dispatch through the state. In short, Plympton felt that they were not being made a priority. “The difference between us and state police is you’re an integral part of our dispatch operation,” Reardon explained. As an example, Reardon referenced the previous Friday saying it was a particularly busy day for the four towns serviced by the ROCC, so the number of dispatchers was increased from 4 to 10 to accommodate the high volume.
Reardon also went on to say that there have been a number of benefits to the town due to the regionalization including the phone system at the police station, mobile data terminals, and better communications overall. Reardon said that the ROCC spent $800,000 this past year in order to improve communications for the sake of firefighter and police officer safety. Chief Nord, who also acts as department head at the ROCC, said, “You’ve gotten a tremendous amount of product for belonging.” Mahoney added that including just big-ticket items, Plympton has seen $193,000 worth of development funding this past year. Nord stressed that Plympton should think in terms of the big picture and all the infrastructure improvements they’ve seen, when reviewing the annual fee.
Mahoney addressed Plympton’s increase in call volume and explained how call volume is assessed. “There is no perfect metric to use to know exactly how much of an impact any one community has to a dispatch center because there are so many shared resources,” Mahoney explained. The call volume for Plympton in the last year was 15,000. Duxbury stood at 32,000, Halifax at 12,000, and Rochester at 12,000. Mahoney explained that for every item that gets logged into the records management system, a tick is added to the call volume tally.
Traynor questioned the numbers saying, “We’re less than half the population of Halifax and yet we have more call volume.” Nord explained that it was difficult to estimate what impact Plympton would have on the dispatch center initially as there really weren’t any good records to work from. Nord went on to say that initial estimates were low and stressed that Plympton is actually a very busy community with lots of traffic stops and EMS.
Mahoney said that much of Plympton’s call volume was due to building checks and motor vehicle stops. Traynor said that he assumed those things were going on in the other towns as well but was told that they were, but not to the same extent. Mahoney said that Plympton has strict traffic monitoring.
Chief Dillon said that of the 15,000 call volume, 9,000 of those were just building checks. “That’s 9,000 numbers that are sort of being, we feel, treated just the same as a domestic disturbance response or a car crash in one of those other towns.” Dillon proposed a possible weighted system where a building check might be worth half of a point whereas another type of a response might be worth two points.
Nord said that if Plympton were running a dispatch center on their own of the same quality, they would likely be looking at paying fees in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. Nord did apologize for the sudden spike in fee, however, saying that they should have begun slowly adjusting the number sooner.
Russo acknowledged that the town was aware and appreciative of the great service they were receiving. “We surely want to pay our fair share, it just doesn’t feel like this is our fair share,” Russo said.
Russo also asked about the likelihood of other towns joining the ROCC and was told that Hanson has already signed on and that several other towns are potentially joining as well. As of right now, the ROCC has the potential to more than double with a new building capable of handling a population of 100,000. The ROCC has also gone from five dispatch seats to fifteen. The potential for growth means that other towns would be sharing the burden of cost.
The meeting was very amicable with all sides agreeing that they just wanted to come to a resolution that would be satisfactory to all involved. The ROCC agreed to look at the potential of a weighted system and the Board of Selectmen and Dennehy agreed to come up with a number somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 that would work for the town.