Murrysville considers ending local dispatch service
By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 4:51 p.m.
After decades of providing its own police dispatch service, Murrysville could move to the county 911 system by the end of the year.
Municipal officials tonight are slated to consider a proposal to transfer police dispatch services to the Westmoreland County 911 Communications Center.
“Westmoreland County 911 is a professional, well-established system that dispatches most other emergency services throughout Westmoreland County,” Murrysville police Chief Tom Seefeld said. “Murrysville is confident in its ability to provide a seamless transition and to carry on a fine tradition of police dispatching.”
The proposal is spurred by the planned 2013 retirements of two dispatchers employed by the municipality. A third is eligible to retire, chief administrator Jim Morrison said. In the past, the department has struggled to hire qualified dispatchers when vacancies arose, he said.
“It's a public-safety issue, a police-safety issue,” Morrison said. “No one will lose their jobs. We want to make this as seamless as possible.”
Seefeld said several factors, including the future needs and expectations of the department and community and officer safety, contributed to the suggested transition. Any dispatchers who don't retire this year would remain working in the department as support staff, he said.
“It goes without saying that our dispatchers have performed their duties over the years in a professional, competent manner,” Seefeld said. “They are to be commended.”
Murrysville last reviewed the 911 dispatch program in 2005. At that time, the program was estimated to cost the municipality $271,191 to provide clerical, auxiliary police duties, dispatching and customer service. During the 2005 debate, officials indicated that three employees would be needed to continue much of the clerical work completed by dispatchers.
Westmoreland County's 911 program is funded by county, state and federal money. The 2005 report indicated that, at that time, Murrysville residents were paying approximately $171,000 in monthly phone surcharges and $114,500 in indirect federal, state and county taxes.
Morrison last week said it is too early in the process to project how much money the move would save the municipality.
If council approves the move, only a handful of emergency-management agencies throughout the county will continue to provide in-house dispatching, said Dan Stevens, spokesman for Westmoreland County. Murrysville is one of three municipalities in the county that provide police dispatching. North Huntingdon and Greensburg will continue to operate their own dispatch services, along with state police. The Latrobe Fire Department and Mutual Aid ambulance service also provide in-house dispatching, Stevens said.
John Shepherd, township manager for North Huntingdon, said having an in-house dispatching for police works well for his community. North Huntingdon dispatchers don't just handle police calls. They offer clerical and support to the department.
Shepherd said he didn't have an exact figure of how much in-house dispatching costs the township each year but estimated it to cost “at least a few hundred thousand dollars.”
“It works for us,” Shepherd said. “We like having a local dispatch from the point of view of how they handle calls for us. We're a large department, but it's a personal feel.”
If Murrysville officials switch systems, there will be few changes, Stevens said. With the current dispatch service, residents who call 911 are automatically routed to Greensburg, which must direct local calls back to Murrysville. The proposed change will streamline the process.
“The general public won't have anything to worry about,” Stevens said. “It would be seamless.”
In Murrysville, all three municipal fire departments and municipal ambulance service Medic One use the county system for dispatching. The fire companies moved to county dispatch in the 1980s, while Medic One switched in the 1990s, Morrison said.
There are advantages to being a part of the county system, Seefeld said. While Murrysville's police do have up-to-date technology at this time, joining the county program would keep up-to-date technology, equipment and resources available. Morrison said that if council approves the change, he would expect police dispatching to move to the county system around Dec. 1.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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