By Katina Caraganis
DEVENS -- In the nearly full year that the Nashoba Valley Regional Dispatch Center has been open on Barnum Road at Devens, its member towns are seeing cost savings they've been able to funnel back into their cash-strapped budgets.
The center opened in June and dispatches officers for Devens, Harvard, Lunenburg and Lancaster with a state mandate that required all departments to have two dispatchers on duty at all times to help provide emergency-management dispatch.
Dispatchers also must be trained to give basic instructions to callers dealing with various medical situations. By regionalizing dispatch services, each town was able to meet the mandate without added cost.
Lunenburg Town Manager Kerry Speidel said the town didn't enter into the regional dispatch center to save money but to save looming costs. She said when the selectmen voted to transition to the new dispatch center, only one dispatcher was working on any given shift in Lunenburg.
She said two dispatchers would be on during an occasional shift if there were some sort of special detail going on.
Over time, she said the calls for service had increased significantly, so the cost to maintain its own dispatch center would be too great.
The cost of adding the additional dispatchers needed would have been in excess of $100,000.
In fiscal 2013, the town spent just under $274,000 in dispatch funding, which included benefits, salaries, cost and other related expenses. In fiscal 2014, through regional dispatch, the total cost to the town was $190,000.
Each member town pays $187,000 for its assessment, and that number is expected to decrease as more towns are added to the center.
Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said since joining the regional-dispatch center, the town has saved $97,000.
He attributed a lot of the savings to the consolidation of services in town.
"In totality, it's a staffing reduction, so I think that helps," he said. "You have four entities, if not more, splitting the cost. A lot of those initial human-resource costs you would be spending individually, we're splitting it four ways."
He said the town has an intern who staffs the dispatch desk 20 hours a week and has no intention of designating a police officer to be at the desk in the near future.
As of now, he said, there has been no need to have a uniformed officer at the desk.
Of Lancaster's four full-time dispatchers, two were hired by the regionalized district, one retired and the last was not hired.
Speidel also called the transition to the dispatch center seamless, and that it was unlikely residents saw a delayed response in services because of the switch.
Of Lunenburg's four full-time dispatchers, three of them applied for and were given jobs at the new center. One of those three turned the position down, and the fourth did not apply for a job there.
Speidel said Police Chief James Marino has requested additional officers be worked into the fiscal 2015 budget, but because of limited resources, Speidel said she was not able to honor the request.
"We need more officers, and I would imagine the chief's priority would be officers on the street over the desk officer, but I won't speak for him. We need officers and I am hopeful that in that time frame, we will increase our staffing. We'll have to find a way," she said.
Kelsey Abbruzzese, spokeswoman for MassDevelopment, the governing body with oversight of Devens operations, said Devens has saved a total of $101,952 since the center opened.
Calls were not returned to Harvard Town Administrator Timothy Bragan for comment.
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