By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
In the final hours of a pending early November decision that would have consolidated North Tonawanda’s police dispatch service with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the common council tabled the measure, partly in response to the rising tide of a union outcry, which included dozens of police officers as well as the six dispatchers employed by the city.
As a result, the council budgeted to keep the dispatch service in the Lumber City until at least the end of June. Four months after that decision, parties from all sides - including one dispatcher - have been sporadically meeting to again discuss a move.
“We've had three or four meetings with the county manager, legislators, the chief of police and a member of the dispatch,” said Mayor Rob Ortt. “It’s a huge working group. We’re trying to get all the stake holders in the room. We’re moving this forward so we want everyone involved to be there. That’s going to yield a responsible plan.”
In the original agreement between city and members of the Sheriff’s Office, which controls the county dispatch service, North Tonawanda would have initially paid the county $250,000 with an arrangement to pay $50,000 less each of the next five years, until the service was entirely absorbed into the county’s coffers.
Depending on which side you ask, estimates to update the city’s antiquated dispatch system could conservatively cost between $150,000 and $500,000.
But now, from a financial perspective, all bets are off.
According to Ortt, who has never veered from his determination to merge the service with the county in an effort to cut costs, there is now a clean slate when it comes to any possible contributions.
“Those figures, you can forget them,” he said. “We’re in negotiations with county managers now.”
Additionally, he said, both the Sheriff’s Office and the city are seeking a state efficiency grant that would be worth $400,000 for the consolidation should it be approved.
The deadline for that endeavor is March 21, with the Sheriff’s Office acting as the lead agency in pursuing the grant and the common council shuffling to get the city’s part of the application in on time.
The six-month hiatus was needed, several council members agreed, to examine whether it was the best decision for the community, and now several of them appear to be on board with the mayor’s plan.
Second Ward Alderman Rich Andres, Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka and Alderwoman At-Large Nancy Donovan have indicated they are behind the consolidation, Ortt said. First Ward Alderman Russ Rizzo has already back the idea.
Bill Davignon, president of CSEA Local 832, the union that represents the dispatchers, said he is looking for a seat at the negotiating table, despite the fact that he filed a grievance on the matter in Feb. 10. He sent a letter to Ortt on Feb. 16 expressing his interest in participating, but said he has received no response.
He said while the terms of the current contract “means the city can’t contract out that work,” he would still like his union be involved.
“I don’t want people to think we’re a bunch of militant union people,” he said. “I told the mayor even though we filed a grievance there’s no reason we can’t be there. If it’s deemed that it’s more beneficial for the dispatchers to go out to Niagara County we want to be there.
Davignon said the intricacies of such negotiations sometime require the guiding hand of the union whether it be “for financial reasons or job security or anything else.” Several dispatchers and union representatives will meet today (THURSDAY) to hold talks on several related issues.
“Right now I believe with this grievance we do have the opportunity to stop this thing right in its tracks,” he said. “But if we don’t have to, we won’t.”