Privatization of police and 911 emergency dispatching services in Lawrence Township took a step closer to becoming reality last week when the township administration advertised for bids from companies qualified to provide such services.
The formal “Request for Proposals” was published Tuesday, Dec. 4, on the township’s website.
Sealed bids are due back to the township municipal building before 11 a.m. on Jan. 3, when they will be opened and publicly read by Township Manager Richard Krawczun. After those bids are read, the township can decided to award a contract to one of the bidders, or reject all bids and stick with the current dispatching services provided by municipal employees.
A copy of “Specifications for the Providing of Staffing of the Lawrence Township Police Department Communications Center” - the document that is being distributed by the township to prospective bidders - can be found in the media box to the right.
That document notes that while the township will retain ownership of all radio, computer and other electronic equipment in the communications center, located with the township police station, the contractor will be responsible for all staffing matters including recruitment, training, performance and discipline.
If a contract is awarded, it will run from April 1, 2013, through March 31, 2015, with the township having an option to award one three-year extension.
Noted in the bid specifications is the following: “It is essential that the township move forward quickly to have the contract in place. Therefore, provider must include as part of its proposal a mobilization and implementation plan, beginning with the date of notification of contract award that affirms that provider will be capable of performing all work of the contract starting on April 1, 2013.”
It was in September that members of Lawrence Township Council passed a resolution directing the township administration to use the state’s competitive contracting process to solicit proposals from private companies interested in providing police and 911 emergency dispatching services to the township. Finalization of the bid specifications was delayed by Hurricane Sandy.
While under competitive contracting cost does not have to be the sole deciding factor, the intention of seeking proposals is to determine if taxpayer money can be saved through privatization in light of the township needing to cut a significant amount from its 2013 municipal budget in order to comply with the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.
The amount of the tax cap overage was most-recently estimated at about $502,000. Ironically, however, under the confusing and seemingly-contradictory provisions of the tax cap law, any savings the township could generate by privatizing police and 911 emergency dispatching could not be applied toward lowering the 2013 municipal tax cap overage.
Since privatization of dispatch services was first brought up as a possibility during the Sept. 4 council meeting, leaders of the dispatchers’ union and a number of township residents have spoken against such a move and expressed concerns about leaving decisions in potentially life-and-death situations to be made by contractors who are unfamiliar with the township.
Lawrence Township’s police department has an authorized strength of nine civilian “communications operators,” however two of those dispatching positions have been vacant since March. One dispatcher is currently on extended medical leave following a surgery. And another veteran dispatcher – worried that he was soon to lose his job due to privatization – recently left Lawrence Township to take a dispatcher position with the Ewing Township Police Department.
With only five dispatchers currently available, police officers are regularly being pulled off the street to fill vacancies on the dispatching desk, causing there to be less officers available to answer calls or forcing the township to bring extra officers in on overtime, union officials have said.
According to the township police department’s annual report, the communications center handled 52,684 calls for service in 2011.
Union officials have said the dispatchers are willing to negotiate and make concessions in order to save their jobs.
- Nov. 15: “Police Dispatchers Argue Against Privatizing Their Jobs”
- Oct. 25: “Council's Decision About 2013 Layoffs Needed Soon”
- Sept. 20: “Lawrence Council Considers Outside Bids for Emergency Dispatch”
- Sept. 7: “”