Newton's potential loss of 9-1-1 client may be Byram's gain

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:59

    Newton - A doubling of the price of 9-1-1 emergency dispatch services has Lafayette looking for an alternate service provider. The township is paying Newton $20,000 this year for the services, but officials have been notified that the cost will go up to $40,000 next year in a proposed three-year contract. In the final year of the contract, 9-1-1 dispatch will cost $49,000. At the last township council meeting, Mayor John D’Angeli said that township officials are contacting other towns in the county that provide the dispatch service to see if one would accept a contract. Most towns in the county use regional dispatch centers for the service. All towns that contract with Newton for the service have had their fees doubled for next year, Lafayette officials said. A Newton police official said that the town has recently expanded and upgraded its facilities. To pay for the improvements, the decision was made to increase fees charged to the ten communities to which Newton provides 9-1-1 service. The council has contacted two towns that operate regional centers, Sparta and Andover Township, selected because of their geographical location. The contract with Newton expires Dec. 31. Lafayette officials have also discussed the situation with their counterparts in Hardyston. “There are logistical issues” involving signal reception said D’Angeli. Although Vernon and Byram both provide the service, the landscape of the county hinders communication. Lafayette Fire Chief Joe Farishon explained that 9-1-1 calls usually are relayed through the State Police in Totowa to the closest dispatch center to the call. He said that the reason for the price increase could be due to the growth in the town and because equipment has been updated to send out tones that would differentiate between fire and emergency medical service calls. Prior to the change, one set of tones would call out both groups of volunteers, even if it was a medical call involving only EMS workers. He suggested that this additional cost might be a reason for the increase. Mayor D’Angeli, contacted after the meeting, said that Newton had recently completed improvements to the municipal building, police department, and 9-1-1 dispatch center. Municipal officials were invited to tour the improvements. Lt. Anthony Kolowski of the Newton Police Department confirmed their speculation. He said that the Newton dispatch facility is serving 10 municipalities in the county north of Newton. With the recent construction of a new facility and improved equipment, he said it was necessary to start “spreading the costs across the board.” “The primary burden for dispatching has been on Newton’s shoulders for many, many years.” He continued, “Newton needs to break even, not be in the red.” “I can’t understand doubling the price,” said D’Angeli, “but we are looking elsewhere.” He added that residents should not be concerned. No matter what decision the township makes, “we will still have 9-1-1,” he said. The solution to the question of dispatch coverage might be a county-wide 9-1-1 answering point. In September, the county applied for a $60,000 grant to conduct a study requested by 19 of the county’s 24 municipalities to determine the feasibility of a consolidated answering point. The project, as described in the application, notes that there are now six municipal Public Safety Answering Points serving 24 municipalities with 152,000 residents whose numbers increase at various seasons due to the “recreational offerings that abound throughout the county.” It further states that “except in times of local severe emergencies, no more than two telecommunicators are on duty at any time.” After midnight, all centers have only one telecommunicator on duty. County Administrator John Eskilson said that some eight months ago, Hopatcong approached the county regarding a centralized system. Of the 24 municipalities in Sussex County, Hardyston, Newton, Sparta, and Vernon declined an interest, and Montague still has not responded. Eskilson said that he expects to hear the state’s decision on the grant by the end of this year, and that the study itself will take an estimated 4-6 months. “It will be dependent upon the level of cooperation in providing data at the municipal level.” According to Eskilson, there are many factors involved in the decision including call volumes, involvement of town or state police, FCC licensing of frequencies, signal coverage, towers and antennas, and other several other issues. “We are talking about the public safety, and you’ve got to know that when you flip the switch everything is working. There is no margin for error.”