Westport RTM, Fairfield selectmen approve joint dispatch center at SHU
Governments of both Westport and Fairfield have only one step more before a new dispatch center to serve both communities from the campus of Sacred Heart University is finalized.
On Monday in a virtual meeting, the Fairfield Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the Fairfield County Dispatch Interlocal Agreement; on Tuesday, Westport’s Representative Town Meeting did the same.
The Fairfield RTM will next review and vote on the agreement at its meeting July 27.
“The document you have in front of you is the last step before we can start construction on a joint dispatch center where we will share 911, police, fire and EMS dispatch capabilities with Fairfield,” Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost said at the Westport meeting. “This will save us money and potentially save us a lot of money down the road, but more importantly, this is going to increase our efficiency and our call processing time on 911 calls.”
Yost said the document was two years in the making with local officials from both towns working together. Fairfield’s RTM approved $2.8 million in a bond resolution for the project’s funding in 2019.
Fairfield will operate the center and pay 67 percent of the operational costs, while Westport will pay 33 percent, which is based on population and call volume. The division of operational expenses will also be periodically adjusted.
Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Donald Smith told his board the agreement allows the two municipalities to become partners in the venture. In response to questions from Fairfield Selectman Tom Flynn, town attorney Jim Baldwin said he was satisfied with both the budget process and the legal language in the agreement.
Similarly, Yost praised the partnership between the municipalities. He said the interlocal dispatch center will have a 25-year lease with Sacred Heart for $1 a year, with each town paying 50 cents of that.
“We’ve already had interest from other towns, but the goal is we’re going to start it, we’re going to get it up and running, and then we’ll entertain other municipalities coming in and then we will see the reduction in our share of the costs,” he said. “It’s a pretty exciting time. It’s got a lot of attention, and we’re very excited to start construction.”
Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said the discussions that went into the agreement strengthened the relationship between Westport and Fairfield.
“I’ve negotiated this contract and have been a part of the negotiations with two different selectpersons in Fairfield representing both political parties,” Marpe said. “I’m very proud we have established something — an interlocal agreement — that is still a bit of a rare thing in the State of Connecticut.”
Marpe said he was confident in the mechanisms should differences of opinion arise in managing the facility.
“Certainly the management teams can have the opportunity to resolve it, the first selectpersons of each community has the opportunity to resolve it, and then beyond that there’s certainly arbitration clauses as well,” he said.
Westport RTM member Harris Falk said he has long been in support of the idea.
“This is great, we’ll merge our systems, dispatch will be better and there will be savings to the town,” he said.
Yost said the fire department’s current dispatch center will continue to be used for a short time until things are smoothly running at the newly merged center. He said the department’s dispatch center will then be used as the women’s bunk room, which was it’s original use.
“I could pick a date that we would like to be in there, but we’re also kind of beholden to the state of Connecticut for the fiber-optic and they only come out at a certain time to run that,” Yost said. “My goal is to have a ribbon-cutting in January. I’m kind of going out on a limb on that.”
Reporter Josh LaBella contributed to this report.