The Lawrence Township Council Tuesday evening (Sept. 18) heard appeals from community members against the privatization of the township's emergency dispatch service, but despite opposition, a resolution to use competitive bids was unanimously passed.
Both dispatchers and residents spoke about the importance of having experienced and competent operators when a caller is faced with an emergency.
"I answer 9-1-1 calls for people...who are alone and in-labor for the first time," said Ellen Marie McGinley, dispatcher. "People who have been assaulted and have no idea what to do next."
Other issues raised during public comment were the potential for high turnover if an outside vendor is used and the risk that would place on residents and first responders.
"We know the town; we know the people; we know where to send someone," said Susan Handelman, dispatcher and union vice president. "If they bring people in that aren't familiar, it will be a big problem."
Alternatives to the layoff of dispatch employees offered during public comment were consolidation with neighboring municipalities and the review of the trash collection fee.
Township Manager Richard S. Krawczun told the council that consolidation of services had been spoken about at length and did not necessarily guarantee the dispatchers their jobs.
"All the employees [both civil and non-civil service] get the protection as if they were civil service employees including seniority," said Krawczun in regards to the process of consolidation. "So as much as our dispatchers may be proponents of consolidation, it would clearly be that all of our dispatchers would not remain employees...due to the fact that we may have dispatchers that don't have as much seniority."
Residents questioned the council's decision to privatize emergency dispatch rather than ancillary township services.
Stephanie Baranowski, a teacher and resident, proposed privatizing services such as public works.
"I would rather have an under qualified person sweeping the streets than answering the phone calls for emergency situations," said Baranowski. "You're really sacrificing quality for money."
Krawczun said the competitive bid allows the dispatchers to form a group and act as a bidder, or they can offer wage concessions and other contract considerations to equal the savings a competitive contract vendor could generate.
"We've discussed [submitting a bid]. I don't know at this point, if we can financially do that," said Handelman.
Krawczun had told her and a union rep that the dispatchers would need to find $350,000 to save their jobs, according to Handelman.
"The only way possible would be for us to work for free," said Handelman.
Krawczun said that any money saved from the proposed privatization will go directly to the tax payers and not the budget gap.
"I don't want anyone to leave here tonight thinking that [the council] was only looking for ways to save money against the cap," said Krawczun. "It's not just about staying under the cap base; it's about saving tax dollars, and this may be—it may not be a way to accomplish that."
Krawczun also talked about the projected cost saving measures for the 2013 budget in his Manager's Report. Proposals included the elimination of the recreation program, a decrease in the frequency of brush collection and a new zoning permit fee. All proposals are considered pending except for the increase in various fees which has already been adopted.
Krawczun also introduced a metal/bulk collection fee which would generate $400,000 and offset the need for a trash collection fee. Currently metal and bulk pick up are included at no charge to township residents.
Krawczun said the system could incorporate a flat fee for all residents or a sticker program in which residents must buy labels prior to a metal or bulk pickup.
"The disadvantage to the sticker program is it could result in illegal dumping,"said Krawczun.
The council is currently reviewing the rates and policies for various metal/bulk collection agencies in the area.
The council also passed a resolution authorizing a professional services agreement for the revaluation of Quaker Bridge Mall.