Local governments assuming reasonable risk

Case study: Waukesha County Dispatch Consolidation

In 2000, there were ten separate public safety answering points (PSAP) throughout Waukesha County. The County Executive, the Director of Administration, and the County Board determined it was time to explore potential consolidation of these individual facilities into one centralized structure serving the entire County. Two main factors led to the consideration of consolidating the dispatch centers. First, employee retention was a significant challenge for some of the centers. Second, many of the PSAPs within the County were facing expensive capital system replacements.

Project overview

The most difficult obstacle to consolidation was to demonstrate clear benefits to a sufficiently large number of potential partners to make consolidation feasible. In order for the merged operation to create sufficient cost savings, several communities would have to participate. In addition, key stakeholders in several communities expressed concerns over relinquishing local control. While a number of municipal Finance Directors and elected officials appreciated the potential cost savings, convincing the key Department managers proved challenging.

The County had tried for two years to develop a consortium to achieve the consolidation, but the consortium could not agree on a cost structure. At the same time, there were fears that the additional cost of bringing a merged dispatch center into the County’s organizational structure and onto the County’s property tax levy would increase the County levy rate by more than the potential savings would reduce municipal levies, for a net loss to taxpayers.

Baker Tilly’s role

Given the larger context of this effort, Baker Tilly’s role as an objective third party was crucial. The County and municipalities relied on our analyses of service levels, staffing, operating, and equipment costs, without concern that the numbers were biased toward a particular outcome. In addition to providing these analyses, Baker Tilly also provided consulting advice and templates related to governance and intergovernmental agreements. The assistance we provided related to governance proved helpful in addressing concerns related to relinquishing local control.

Results

Overall, the consolidated dispatch center improved service, increased capacity to provide support services to municipal dispatch centers, improved ability to deal with staff turnover, and reduced annual operating costs.

  • Reduced annual operating costs because they no longer have to staff and manage their municipal
  • PSAP. One of the participating municipalities reported recently that the $525,000 in annual savings
  • estimated by the Baker Tilly team has proved to be accurate, resulting in a significant benefit to its
  • public safety budget;
  • Avoided capital upgrade or replacement costs for radio consoles, Computer Aided Dispatch systems, and
  • other necessary call taking and dispatching infrastructure;
  • Input into the operation of the County-wide Communications Center through its own governing Board; and
  • reduced human resource transaction costs because they no longer had to recruit, train, and retain dispatch staff.

From the County’s perspective, a larger Communications Center has meant more resources to improve training and testing programs, enabling it to better identify candidates during recruitment. Because of its larger budget, the County now has the ability to maintain an equipment replacement fund on an eight year schedule. Further, from a workforce management perspective, with a larger staff the Center is better positioned to adjust with turnover and/or scheduling issues among its dispatchers.