Cost containment was the driving force in two votes the governing board of the Merced County Association of Governments took last week toward consolidation of police and fire dispatchers in the county.
MCAG voted to assess the equipment being used by the various dispatches across the county and determine if there would be a savings in sharing new equipment. The board also voted for the firm hired to do the implementation plan to find out what each department is spending on dispatch.
The results will be presented to governing board members in about two months.
Consolidation has been met with skepticism and concern by some officials and heralded as a cost saving and efficient way to maximize resources by others.
It is believed having one dispatch center would reduce staff countywide from 75 to 56 and save $1 million per year in staff services.
Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee said he doesn't believe consolidation is in the best interest of his department because of staffing issues and cost. He said taking away the 10 dispatchers in Los Banos would leave openings elsewhere in his department that would create added costs.
Brizzee said he's spoken with officials in other cities; some agree with him, others don't.
"I don't want to speak out of turn for other agencies, but it's been a mixed bag," Brizzee said.
Dos Palos Mayor Johnny Mays said the consolidation would be good for his city's police department, which is stretched thin with only three dispatchers.
"It tests us pretty good," Mays said of the volume of work his dispatchers face. "What you don't want to have to do is have police answering the phones instead of being on the street."
Mays, who sits on MCAG's board, toured the consolidated dispatch in Santa Cruz with MCAG members earlier this month. He said not every municipality in the Santa Cruz area participates in the shared center, but the ones that do are efficient.
Mays said although he believes a consolidated dispatch would work for his city and others in Merced County, he understand's Brizzee's reluctance.
"I can understand (Los Banos') police chief's hesitancy; if it ain't broke don't fix it," Mays said.
He said the key to getting a countywide consolidated dispatch will be convincing city managers that they can save money. Mays said it is also important to have the city of Merced and the Merced County Sheriff's Department involved.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said he has concerns about dispatch consolidation. Pazin said he wants to know how the agreement between agencies will work as well as the bureaucracy that will be needed to oversee the dispatch center.
"This sets up a whole different administration," Pazin said. "I'm curious as to where the savings are."
Pazin said he has some of the same concerns as Brizzee.
"Our folks do additional work also. They (interact) with the public. It's not just talking on the radio and answering the phone," he said.
In April, MCAG agreed to spend $40,000 to hire a firm for an implementation plan for consolidated dispatch. The firm, Santa Cruz-based Belcher, Ehle, Medina and Associates, in November presented a plan in which the design of the consolidation starts this year and the countywide dispatch begins operating in 2016.
MCAG has asked for more details on the cost and logistics of the plan. Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said he is in favor of the consultant firm doing more research.
"We approved the consultant to go forward and collect more data," O'Banion said. "There's concerns about whether you can save money. As a supervisor, I think we should at least gather the information to see if there is a savings."
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanos
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanos enterprise.com.