New site for Fairfield-Westport dispatch center to cost $1.1M more

Photo of Katrina Koerting

FAIRFIELD — The dispatch partnership between the town and Westport is still on track, but will cost about $1.1 million more than originally anticipated.

The project is now expected to cost about $4 million, up from the initial $2.9 million. The increase is largely due to technology and a new location, said Jared Schmidt, Fairfield’s chief financial officer.

The Fairfield Board of Selectmen approved the increase at its meeting this week.

“It’s still a savings to us,” Schmidt told the selectmen.

The new emergency communications center is designed to save Westport and Fairfield money while improving call response times and service. It is expected to be operational by Aug. 1, Westport Police Lt. David Wolf said.

However, the original plans called for using what had once been a dispatch center — and so would require little retrofitting — at the former GE site on what is now Sacred Heart University property, but that site will be converted into the new ice rink.

That meant moving the new dispatch center to a spot under the library, Fairfield Police Capt. John Bucherati said, so more work needed to be done to accommodate the center.

“We essentially had to start from scratch,” Bucherati said.

Some of the technology items include a fiber optics cable, recording systems for the calls, radios, computer equipment and software.

Under the agreement, Fairfield and Westport divided the capital costs evenly, while the operating costs are split based on population and call volume. This means Fairfield assumes 2/3 of the operating budget and Westport covers the other third.

“The good news is the state is keeping its commitment and increasing its commitment,” Schmidt said, adding the state is now giving $300,000 per town. “So it’s a total of $600,000 that the state is committing to help and encourage the creation of the new multi-town center.”

Both towns are now responsible for $1.7 million of the center project, which is about $508,000 more each compared with the previous plan.

Westport must also approve the increase, but Wolf said it would be on an upcoming finance board agenda.

“The partnership with Westport remains strong,” Schmidt said.

Fairfield and Westport began working on this partnership several years ago as both towns were looking to upgrade their emergency communications centers.

“Since Westport’s communications equipment was starting to age and would need to be replaced in the near future, this was an opportune time to combine resources with our neighboring community,” Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said. “Further, the combined communications center will provide both a savings to the Westport taxpayers as well as deliver excellent service to the respective communities.”

Through the partnership, Westport departments might respond to Fairfield calls and vice versa, depending on who is closer. This should lower the amount of time to process and respond to calls, Bucherati said.

Other towns are also exploring joining the center, which will bring the costs down for Westport and Fairfield.

“As they come in, they’ll improve our financial situation overall,” Schmidt said.

Bucherati said they can’t take everyone due to space, but said one town is definitely interested and another is talking about joining the partnership.

These other municipalities would cover part of the costs based on a formula most likely connected to call volume and population. They would be seen as clients though, not partners, and so wouldn’t be part of the governing piece of the center. That is done by a control board comprised of the Fairfield and Westport police and fire chiefs, or their representatives.

The state also offers grant money as towns join.

kkoerting@newstimes.com