BELCHERTOWN — At its June 13 special meeting, the Select Board voted to endorse the final agreement between Belchertown, Wilbraham and Hampden with regard to regional dispatch services.

Town Administrator Steven Williams said the shift is part of move towards more efficiency in the town emergency dispatch services for police and fire.

“This process has been nearly three years in the making,” he said. “We currently spend about $350,000 a year managing the dispatch center and by moving it to Wilbraham, down the road there will be savings. Right now, it will be fully funded through grants. The first three years of the program is fully funded through grants.”

Following the three years, the town will assume an economic responsibility of $250,000, resulting in overall savings as Wilbraham assumes dispatch service.

Williams said the move to regional dispatch service is a trend seen all over the state. “This isn’t unique, it’s not something we invented and unfortunately we cannot take credit for it.” He also said it is a transition being encouraged by the state as indicated by the addition of grant money as part of the move by municipalities.

The communities of Chicopee, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Monson and Ware are all served by WestComm Regional Dispatch Service in Chicopee.

An increase in staffing, an issue Belchertown has dealt with, will also be seen as part of the shift to the Wilbraham center.

“Typically, we have one dispatcher on duty in Belchertown, Wilbraham will have three,” he said. “So, there will be more people in that room at all times.”

From a technological standpoint, Williams said service for the community will see improvements and increased efficiency in the delivery of information and overall dispatch service as opposed to compromising safety for town residents.

“Consoles will bring up maps of the community so when a call comes in, they [dispatchers] know right where it is, they can direct the officers there they don’t have to have knowledge of Belchertown.”

The town also will be looking to address more than $7.5 million in communication and radio service, something that could be mitigated in part by state grant funding with the move to a regional dispatch system.

Desk service in Belchertown will continue during the week through the presence of part time staff to address administrative functions and community service needs.

“There will be part-time clerks at the desk during the work week, Williams said. “I think the desk will be staffed about 50 hours [per week], about the same as Town Hall. Those who need to speak with an officer can still make that request and during off-hours an intercom system will contact the center in Wilbraham and dispatch an officer to speak with the resident.

Vice Chair Lesa Lessard Pearson, who was chairing the meeting, raised the concerns that she said Belchertown residents have voiced questioning Wilbraham’s knowledge of the town and their ability to provide proper service.

Williams said dispatchers in Wilbraham have already been working with Hampden for four years and have already been regionalized in the that capacity.

“Again, a lot of what takes place is going to be on the computer, “he said. “Even if somebody is not able to speak, they’re going to see the address, they can go to the satellite and pull up a picture of the house, there’s all these things that they can do.”

Williams also said that the times of people having intimate knowledge of the community are long gone.

“We hire dispatchers from out of town that have never driven through half of the roads in Belchertown and they’re functioning here very well because they have this kind of technology and they’re trained to use it,” he said. “It’s not a prerequisite anymore that you live in town to be a dispatcher and you know everybody’s name.”

Procedurally, Williams also pointed to the common standards followed by the police and fire employees, with every community following the same protocols, Belchertown being one of them.

“The reason they do that if there is a mutual aid call, with Belchertown firefighters going to another community, they’re all doing everything exactly the same.”

Williams said the procedures followed by the public safety departments are standardized with very rigid training requirements to the inclusion of the dispatch staff.

“I’m not expecting to see any changes and we still have the same firefighters and police officers on the street, we’re still going to have that same hometown feel,” he said. “You’re not going to notice the difference.”
As the transition begins, part time service in Belchertown initiates this month with the town’s current dispatch services scheduled to officially cease their operations on July 1. The new agreement is contracted for six fiscal years.