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Hanover, Lebanon Police Consider Plan to Merge Dispatch Centers

  • Hanover Regional Communications Center Communications Coordinator Doug Hackett, left, speaks with Dan Ventola of Consolidated Communications on Jan. 17, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. Officials in the town of Hanover and city of Lebanon plan to contract with an outside company to assess whether it would be feasible to merge the Lebanon and Hanover dispatch centers. Ventola was doing work for the fire department. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Communications officer Lisa Camarra speaks to a caller at the Regional Communications Center,on Jan. 17, 2019, in Hanover, N.H. Officials in the town of Hanover and city of Lebanon plan to contract with an outside company to assess whether it would be feasible to merge the Lebanon and Hanover dispatch centers. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2019

Officials in Hanover and Lebanon are exploring the possibility of merging their dispatch centers and creating one regional communications center for police, fire, public works and emergency medical services calls.

Doing so could result in cost savings while providing better service to residents in Hanover, Lebanon and all of the towns the Hanover Regional Communications Center currently contracts with, Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin and Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland said recently.

Whether that would indeed be the case, though, and just what a potential merger could look like, will be at the center of a feasibility study an outside company will undertake soon.

“There are economies of scale that they can take advantage of ... and there are demonstrated examples where this works,” Mulholland said, pointing to his experience as a former police chief in Merrimack County, which has a sheriff’s department that uses a regional dispatch system, much like the Grafton County Sheriff’s Department.

In addition, “we think it might enhance the quality of service we provide,” Griffin said, “but time will tell.”

Mulholland and Griffin are finalizing the document that details the scope of the project and then will put it out to bid. The project asks a firm to review Hanover and Lebanon’s existing communications systems and come up with the pros and cons of combining the two.

Among the questions are whether it would make sense to merge into one of the existing facilities, build a new building or even do some sort of “virtual” affiliation, Griffin said. The study likely will cost about $25,000, an amount that will be split between Hanover and Lebanon.

Griffin hopes the Pennsylvania-based company Mission Critical Partners, which specializes in dispatch and emergency communications, conducts the study, as they already have a foot in the door in Hanover.

In June 2017, that company completed a review of Hanover dispatch and made recommendations on staffing levels, technology upgrades and fee-for-service costs. Hanover officials have accepted some of their recommendations and will add funding for another dispatcher in the next budget cycle and will change the way Hanover dispatch bills the roughly two dozen towns it serves.

Currently, Hanover dispatch provides a mix of police, fire, EMS and public works services to 62 agencies in 23 towns on both sides of the Connecticut River. Their service area stretches north to Topsham, Vt., south to Cornish, west to Strafford and east to Grafton. They also serve agencies like Upper Valley Ambulance.

Lebanon Public Safety Communications, which is the city’s dispatch center, provides similar services within the city only, with the exception of dispatching ambulance services to a few communities in the Upper Valley, Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello said.

Mello and Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis, who oversee the dispatch centers, both said they are open to exploring the idea of consolidating.

However, Mello needs more information before he would be sold on the merger idea.

“I definitely have some concerns,” he said. “We are a busy police department and we require a lot of services from the communications center.”

He questioned whether his officers would be given the attention they need to remain safe on the road if there was a single dispatch center handling twice the amount of calls.

“It’s not just all dollars and cents,” he said.

Hanover and Lebanon dispatch both have similar staffing numbers. They each have eight full-time dispatchers; Hanover has four part-time dispatchers and Lebanon has two.

Their budgets also are similar. Hanover’s dispatch center has a proposed 2019-20 budget of $969,500. Lebanon’s 2019 budget that started in January is just over $1 million.

Both dispatch centers cover thousands of calls per year.

The Grafton County Sheriff’s Department operates under a regional model, dispatching for 59 agencies in roughly two dozen towns. The regional model has worked well for the county for decades, Grafton County’s Communications Director Tom Andross said.

“The benefits are in cost savings and the quality of service,” Andross said.

Griffin, the Hanover town manager, said the study will take four to six months. It should wrap up over the summer and then town and city officials will discuss the path forward, she said.

The merger proposal originally looped in the Hartford Emergency Communications Center, but after an initial review, it didn’t make sense to proceed for two reasons, Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said.

First, Hartford already operates a regional center that provides services to 23 agencies in 11 towns and it offers 911 assistance to a portion of the state of Vermont. Second, Hartford’s center uses different infrastructure and technology than its counterparts in New Hampshire, so a merger wasn’t going to be cost-effective, Kasten said.

The conversation about merging the dispatch centers came in June at a quarterly meeting of Upper Valley municipal managers. Several topics are mulled in those meetings, with an eye on ways to regionalize services.

“It is always wise to look at your options and examine whether efficiencies can be implemented,” said Doug Hackett, the communications coordinator with the Hanover Regional Communications Center. “The goal here is to offer better service to officers, firefighters and the public. Whatever it takes to do that, I’m open to looking at.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.