Tuesday, October 3, 2023

With consultant’s report expected in May, dispatchers voice concern about merge

(Courtesy photo/James City County Fire Department)
(Courtesy photo/James City County Fire Department)

A vote to merge James City County’s dispatch center with a nearby regional center will not take place by July 1, according to the county’s top administrator. WYDaily first reported the possible merger in February.

Earlier this year, County Administrator Bill Porter hired consultant Engineering Associates LLC to determine if merging the county’s dispatch center with the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Regional 911 Emergency Communications Center could improve service and decrease county costs.

In February, Porter said the Board of Supervisors would “ideally” vote on a potential merge by July 1, after the consultant finished a report analyzing the pros and cons of a merge, and in time for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Now, the consultant’s finalized report will not be complete until mid or late-May, Porter said, meaning the Board of Supervisors is not likely to vote on the proposed merge before the beginning of the upcoming budget year.

Supervisors are slated to vote on this year’s budget on May 8.

“Even if we got with the board before then with the study, we would need more time to work everything out,” Porter said, adding that county officials still do not know whether the consultant will recommend a merge. “There are a whole lot of moving parts.”

Without a completed report from the consultant, Porter said little is known about possible effects a merge could have on emergency services in the county.

As the consultant works to identify the pros and cons of a merge, one veteran dispatcher reached out to WYDaily with concerns about the potential impacts a merge could have.

Do you have concerns about the impacts a merge could have? If so, what are they?

Concerns about the merge

A veteran James City County dispatcher believes the merge could yield negative results.

Former deputy director of James City County’s dispatch center Jackie Carroll said dispatchers will likely have to learn the policies and geography of all four localities — making it difficult to know each locality well. 

Carroll started working in James City County in 1979, and assisted in setting up the county’s emergency communications center in 1980. She retired in 2014 after working on many dispatch-related projects, she said.

Shown here in 2015, a York County emergency dispatcher is often the first person to speak with a distraught caller in an emergency situations. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)
Shown here in 2015, a York County emergency dispatcher is often the first person to speak with a distraught caller in emergency situations.
(Marie Albiges/WYDaily)

Shutting down James City County’s stand-alone communications center could also complicate operations if the regional center in York County loses power, Carroll said.

Now, the James City County and York County centers can operate as a backup center for the other if one loses power. But if they become one center, the “redundancy” is gone and the regional center would need to look elsewhere for backup assistance, she said.

Porter said finding a backup plan if the regional center goes down is one thing the consultant is working on.

If James City County merged its dispatch center with York County, the regional center would field police and fire calls for four localities, including James City County, York County, Poquoson and Williamsburg.

James City County’s emergency communications center alone fielded 102,492 calls in 2016. Of those calls, 52,919 resulted in police or fire-rescue dispatches.

A regional dispatch center is not unheard of in the United States — some states have considered regional dispatch centers, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Parts of North Carolina, such as the Raleigh area, also have multi-locality dispatch centers.

Standing alone

Carroll said James City County emergency communications can stand alone now — and should stay that way.

“The main point is that it can do everything on its own already,” Carroll said.

Carroll also said she was concerned a merger would have a negative impact on James City County dispatchers’ employment.

Carroll said she worried some dispatchers would not be able to make the longer commute to York County’s emergency communications center, located at 301 Goodwin Neck Road.

She also said any impacts on dispatchers’ pay and salaries should be thoroughly considered before a decision is made.

Lingering questions

Porter sent the following statement after WYDaily sent an email requesting information about possible impacts of a merge. The email was sent to both Porter and Terry Hall, director of the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Regional 911 Emergency Communications Center.

“I and we cannot answer most of the questions because the study has not been completed and probably will not be completed until mid or late May,” Porter wrote. “A presentation will be made to the Board on the study once it has been completed and set on a Board meeting or work session agenda. Please understand that If the Board decides to permit staff to pursue merger there are still a lot of moving parts that must be addressed.”

Hall said he agreed with Porter’s statement.

What are your concerns or thoughts about a possible merge? Email them to info@wydaily.com.


Fearing can reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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