Board Member Shahidul Mannan Suggests Delay
Last night, the Hopkinton Select Board took up the discussion on the proposed Regional Emergency Communications Center (RECC). Board Chair Amy Ritterbusch indicated at the outset that there would be no vote on the matter that evening.
During the Public Forum, retired Hopkinton police officer Pat O’Brien stated that across several listening sessions he had not heard how a RECC would save the town money, nor would it increase public safety. O’Brien also reminded the Board that dispatchers in our town (who would lose their jobs) have been held in a suspended state while the Board deliberates the matter.
Don Collins, who has served for 38 years in the fire department, urged the town not to proceed. “There are more questions than answers,” he said. “The presentation to residents has been poor and the Board should slow the process down.”
Town Manager Norman Khumalo spoke next, acknowledging that many in town have wondered how a RECC center will benefit Hopkinton. He stated that a RECC center would allow more staff to answer 911 calls than Hopkinton currently has available. Today, 911 calls are answered by two full-time staff members and a supervisor. Khumalo described a scenario in which dispatchers may need to respond to a multi-car accident with injuries on I-495, and how the current team could be tied up and unable to respond to other incidents at the same time. He also pointed out the benefits of cross-training at a RECC, which is standard procedure, and claimed that, should Hopkinton’s dispatchers be hired at the RECC, they may enjoy opportunities for career growth that are not currently available.
Adding to Khumalo’s point about staffing, Fire Chief William Miller made a short presentation about the current staffing model compared to a possible future staffing model in a RECC. The proposed RECC staffing model would have 1 supervisor, 3 dedicated communicators, 2 police dispatchers, and 2 fire / EMS dispatchers. Hopkinton’s current staffing model combines the communication and dispatch functions into the same person. By splitting communicators and dispatchers into separate roles it allows for specialization and scale, Miller asserted.
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Board member Muriel Kramer opened her statement by indicating that she was “centering her decision on the safety and well being of Hopkinton’s residents.” She acknowledged that she had many outstanding questions, and criticized the feasibility study for its lack of metrics and measurements. “The information in the report is good,” she said, “but there is no comparative data, such as what other towns have experienced in moving to a RECC.” Kramer added that she wanted to ensure that the town is prepared to assist affected staff with a transition plan, should it be required.
In her statement, Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere said “I am unsure Hopkinton is ready to make the leap to a RECC at this moment.” She shared that in her visit to the Hopkinton dispatch center she was impressed with the level of professionalism and the technology the town has invested in. She also expressed adamant opposition to the Hopkinton police moving to a “dark station”, a point on which all board members were united on.
Board Chair Amy Ritterbusch shared LaFreniere’s sentiment about the visit to the Hopkinton dispatch center. “If we join a RECC, I hope we can bring some of their best practices with us.” Ritterbusch stated that she felt a move to a RECC is “likely inevitable” and wondered if Hopkinton would better off joining now, where we would have more influence over the decisions and structure of the Inter-Municipal Agreement than if we joined at a later date. She also shared that in her visit to the Norfolk RECC, the leaders indicated that their initial staffing estimates were too low, so the cost savings they anticipated never materialized.
Board member Shahidul Mannan was direct in his opposition. “It is obvious that this is too short of a time for the task we have at hand. We do not have enough convincing information to change course at this time.” Mannan speculated that while it seems obvious that consolidating emergency functions would provide economic efficiencies, it may be more aspirational than an actual benefit at this point. “There is no clear apples to apples comparison to make the economic case,” he said.
Mannan closed by saying he was “Not convinced that now is the time, nor do we have enough information to go that route.” He suggested that the town may pause and wait for the RECC concept to mature, agreeing to revisit it at a later date or when town population justified it.