Southborough participating in study on regionalizing police & fire dispatch

Towns involved in regional dispatch study
(click to enlarge)

A state funded study will look at the potential for a regional public safety dispatch center. Southborough is among the five towns that will be included.

The Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management* will study dispatch services and needs for our area. The other towns included are Westborough, Grafton, Hopkinton, Marlborough, and Hudson.

During last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, members had some questions and concerns about what the study will assess. But, as Chair Lisa Braccio summed up, since it’s not costing the Town, it behooves them to take the step forward.

Town Administrator Mark Purple asked the Board to assign a member to work with him and the public safety chiefs in representing the Town’s interest. Purple advocated they work collaboratively to ensure the study collects the information the Town needs to make a decision.

Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski volunteered to represent the Board. Back in 2020, Malinowski listed studying the potential as one of her goals for the Board that year. At that time, the feedback wasn’t optimistic. This year, that changed.

According to Purple’s update, the Westborough Fire Chief has been communicating with the State 911 Dept and the Collins Center on studying the potential for regionalization. Based on the interest from the other surrounding towns, the state is funding the study. The TA described that some of the other towns are eager to regionalize, while others like Southborough want to examine the domino effect a change would cause.

According to Fire Chief Stephen Achilles, the study will give the Town information on dispatch best practices, Southborough’s current strengths and gaps, and opportunities. Once they have the data, they can decide what to do with it. 

Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus acknowledged there was some anxiety and questions from staff about what regionalization could mean. But he assured he had confidence that based on 6 months of data, the Town would make the right decision at the end of the day. He also noted excitement that all of the chiefs involved are ones that he and Achilles have great relationships with.

Malinowski said she wants to know if the study will only look at whether Southborough is better off on its own or as part of the group of five. She and others indicated that some of the Towns may be a better fit as a smaller group. Selectman Marty Healey noted the variance in Town sizes. And Selectman Sam Stivers highlighted the range of utilization rates. In 2020, the number of 911 calls per 10K residents ranged from about 1.6K (Hopkinton) to 4K (Westborough).

Stivers also worried about the potential that regionalization can lead to one or two member towns being carried along/pressured by others to pay for things they aren’t really happy about. He said that was something they’d need to address.

For more details on the study, click here for the Collins Center presentation, and here for the memo included in the meeting packet from last night. [Note: It appears that the memo includes a cut and paste from past presentations covering the kinds of items included in past agreements. Ignore references to Hanover and Norwood!]

For a look at the map of regionalized public safety communications systems in the state, click here.

*In 2008, the state legislature authorized the UMass Boston based center “dedicated to improving efficiency, effectiveness, governance, and accountability at all levels of government, with a particular focus on state and local government”.

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