New Providence Borough Administrator Doug Marvin presented Council with a $1,197,450 joint dispatch center proposal Monday night, which would merge emergency services between the borough, Summit, Millburn and Berkeley Heights.
After more than a year of discussion between the four towns, the newly-named Watchung Ridge Emergency Squad would shift 1,700 hours of dispatching to police work. Marvin said each town would pay an even $205,000 for capital improvements, including $452,550 for renovations to the dispatch center that would be housed in New Providence Municipal Center.
The cost also includes $100,000 worth of consultation for technology and usage. Technology will be paid through a $1.6 million grant conjured by the Summit Police, with $745,000 already saved for technology upgrades. The remaining grant funds need to be used for technology by the end of the year.
Marvin said operating costs are about equal, going from $339,722 with an independent civic squad to $340,916 with the merger. New Providence will receive $45,000 from the other towns for housing the dispatch facility.
Marvin, echoed by council members, emphasized the importance of the merger in terms of personnel. With the merger, he said, would come a professional and full-time dispatch staff so officers in the New Providence Police Department can focus on police work rather than filling in for dispatchers.
Council President Michael Gennaro said the merger would relieve police officers of 1,700 hours of dispatch, putting them back in an active police role. “By doing this, we are increasing manpower without paying for it,” he said.
“We were limited by human ability to multi-task,” Marvin said, emphasizing that the merger would provide enough staff to operate at full capacity.
He also explained the “intelligent system” that would be installed that provides questions based on the answers to guide the dispatchers through an emergency situation.
“After three stories, we found that the merger is feasible and recommended,” Marvin said.
The next phase is to analyze the financial breakdown to see if New Providence will benefit from the agreement, and discuss the costs with the other towns involved, Marvin said. If a town decides not to go into the agreement, each town must go back and re-evaluate costs and staffing.
Mayor J. Brooke Hern said there is no doubt that New Providence is interested in joining the agreement, noting the financial analysis is “a step in the right direction.”
Councilman Bob Robinson said an analysis of the cost “is of paramount importance,” but should not overlook the safety benefits of the project.
If the towns involved agree on the budget, the merger could be complete by the end of 2012.
OTHER BUSINESS: TAX APPEALS
Council approved tax appeal settlements for four apartment complexes in New Providence after “hard fought negotiations,” Gennaro said.
He said the four apartment buildings – New Providence Gardens, two New Providence Apartments on Gales Drive and Murray Hill Apartments – did not have appeals in 2010 and 2011, and were re-evaluated for tax appeals in 2012.
Each complex’s taxes will be reduced by $112,400, $54,500, $54,400 and $159,600, respectively.
Despite the reduction, Gennaro warned other residents to be wary of asking for tax appeals. New Providence hasn’t had a tax assessment since 1998. But if appeals are still submitted, the borough would have to go through an assessment, which Gennaro says would cost $1 million.
“We would be exactly where we are, just $1 million in the hole,” he said.
OTHER BUSINESS: GENERATORS
Council approved action that will allow Ray Cooney from the Elisabeth Barabash Manor to look for bids for a generator for the senior citizen housing in the event of a natural disaster.
Cooney said a generator is necessary for the building, where 26 senior citizens reside, as they would be stranded without power, like what happened during Hurricane Irene.
The generator, which would cost a total of $61,500 with labor, would be installed to operate the elevators as well as two plugs per room and emergency lighting.
Gennaro, echoed by Robinson, said the most important thing about the generator would be the ability to create another safehouse in case of emergency.
The Manor, located near the New Providence Rescue Squad and Municipal Center, will become another facility that can be used as space for residents if there are widespread power outages, creating an epicenter of safety for the borough.
Council suggested moving the old generator from Municipal Center to the Manor. But the generator, which ran on diesel, would cost $100,000 to move and install, Cooney said.
Cooney said he has a grant from Union County from $25,000 that would be matched by the borough through the affordable housing trust — a fund that needs to be used before “the state grabs it up,” Gennaro said.
That would leave the Manor to finish the bill, what Cooney said is doable.
Cooney said he is going to shop around for bids. Once the bid is chosen, the project could be complete within five months.