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.
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.
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.
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.
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.