Howell considering shift of dispatchers to county

Staff Writer

HOWELL — Municipal officials are considering a plan that could turn over Howell’s police and emergency dispatch responsibilities to Monmouth County.

If Howell officials make that move, the municipality will join other Monmouth County towns that in recent years have eliminated dispatcher positions and shifted those responsibilities to the county.

The issue was discussed at a recent Township Council meeting. Howell dispatchers, firefighters and police officers filled the meeting room at Town Hall to listen to what the members of the governing body had to say.

Mayor Bill Gotto said shifting the dispatching duties from Howell to the county has been contemplated for several years.

“We have heard conversations about moving our dispatchers to the county. We have met with the county freeholders, and they spoke to us about the possibilities,” he said. “We have been invited to visit the county facilities.”

The renewed discussion about shifting the dispatching responsibilities to the county is occurring as officials are developing the 2015 municipal budget.

In western Monmouth County, Englishtown, Manalapan, Freehold Borough and Freehold Township have shifted their dispatching duties to Monmouth County within the past few years.

Employees at the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office 911 Communications Center in Freehold Township answer calls for 45 of the county’s 53 municipalities, plus Naval Weapons Station Earle, Gateway National Park-Sandy Hook, Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College, according to Cynthia Scott, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

“The communications center provides dispatch services for 20 police departments, 59 fire companies and 31 first aid squads. The center is the largest countywide shared service and has enough capacity to provide shared communications to all municipalities at a cost savings,” Scott said.

She said county officials are negotiating a possible agreement with Howell.

Township Manager Jeff Mayfield, who served in the Howell Police Department for several decades before joining the municipal staff, said: “We are currently in the factfinding process of this discussion and we have reached out to the county in regard to prices. We broke the pricing into a separate category, too, for fire and EMS. A final decision as to what we will be doing has not yet been made.”

Some emergency responders expressed uneasiness about the possible shift of the dispatching services to the county, and Councilwoman Pauline Smith said she shared their concerns.

“I believe our own people [dispatchers] know where we are and how to get to us,” Smith said.

Gotto said he has concerns about the level of service dispatchers at the county could provide for Howell.

“The overall dispatch product here is completely different than the one that is on the county level. There are things with our product you will not get through the county, and we would be irresponsible to not look at this from a service and a cost standpoint,” said Gotto.

The mayor said the issue has personal implications for him. He added, “We need to do this the right way. … With my experiences as a volunteer firefighter, this is very important to me.”

Council members Ed Guz and Bob Walsh, Police Chief Ron Carter, Howell Police Department Communications Supervisor Steve Gerrity, one representative from each Howell fire company and fire district, one representative from each Howell first aid squad, and another representative from the Police Department will serve on a committee that will examine the issue.

During public comment, Howell Police Capt. Mark Pilecki spoke about transferring the township’s dispatching responsibilities to the county.

“I do not think it is a good idea. I have been here 35 years and I have dealt with the county for the same amount of time. They have a lot going on there, and a lot of money has been put into their equipment and it still isn’t working right,” Pilecki said.