The Lemoore Police Department is moving forward with plans to build a consolidated dispatch center as Hanford’s police and fire departments are withdrawing from the project.
Lemoore has been working on plans for the dispatch center that would be located in a new building next to Lemoore’s police station on Fox Street. The city secured $939,000 of state funding for the project last year.
During a study session Tuesday, the Hanford City Council unanimously decided to keep dispatch services for the city’s police and fire departments in the city.
Lemoore police Chief Darrell Smith said Hanford’s decision will not affect plans to move forward with the project. He said the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, Kings County Fire Department and the Avenal Police Department all favor consolidation.
The Avenal Police Department currently contracts with the county for dispatch services.
Smith said Corcoran officials made it clear early on that consolidation would not work for them due to special tasks assigned to dispatchers and the fact that the city maintains its own jail.
Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said the county operated a consolidated dispatch with Lemoore and Avenal for many years prior to Lemoore’s 2009 decision to contract with Hanford.
“It was a great partnership and it worked really well,” Robinson said. “We’re really looking forward to going back to that.”
Robinson said the county is outgrowing its dispatch center, which was built in 1978. The facility currently employs 15 dispatchers and two managers. Robinson said the county lacks funding to build a new dispatch center, making Lemoore’s proposal an ideal solution.
Robinson said the consolidated dispatch center would save the county about $200,000 per year. He said that he is still working out a number of details, including a plan to minimize the impact to existing employees.
Hanford police Chief Parker Sever said Hanford has maintained its own dispatch center for at least 50 years. The facility currently costs the city about $896,000 per year to operate.
Lemoore has contracted with Hanford for dispatch services since 2009, paying about $420,000 per year.
Sever said keeping the current dispatch center would pose additional costs after Lemoore leaves. Hanford will lose the four dispatchers currently paid for by the city of Lemoore. Sever recommended that the council keep two of the four dispatchers paid for by Lemoore now to keep pace with increasing calls for service.
Keeping the dispatch center in Hanford and only laying off two dispatchers - the plan that the council ultimately favored - would cost $1.1 million per year. Sever said the costs of that plan are fairly certain.
Sever told the council Tuesday that a consolidated dispatch center would offer benefits like eliminating duplicate resources, more consistent service when dealing with each agency, faster communication between agencies and potential long-term savings as the city’s dispatch needs grow.
The drawbacks included the loss of 24/7 staffing at the Hanford police station, the need to switch to a new computerized records system and a loss of face time and rapport with dispatchers.
Sever said the consolidated dispatch center would be controlled by a joint powers authority, with each agency having an equal vote. He said Hanford would be responsible for 37 percent of the costs of the facility, but would only have a single vote among the multi-agency board.
“Sometimes we want to do business a little bit differently,” Sever said. “If the other cities decide that's not how they want to do it, they can vote that way and I will be stuck.”
Sever said moving forward with the consolidation as proposed would have cost the city about $1.3 million per year. That includes the cost of dispatch services, plus the need to hire two additional employees to staff the police station overnight.
A third option which would have allowed the Hanford Fire Department to join the consolidated dispatch center for $80,000 per year, while the Hanford center would continue to dispatch police calls.
Hanford fire Chief Chris Ekk said the switch would not pose any major impacts for his department. The biggest benefit would be faster communication between city and county fire departments, Ekk said.
The Kings County Board of Supervisors and the Lemoore and Avenal city councils have not yet formally signed onto the proposed project.
Smith said he will present details about the project, along with an artist’s rendition of the proposed facility, to the Lemoore City Council on May 17. Robinson said the board of supervisors will likely hold a study session around the same time to discuss the plan.
Currently, when one agency requests help from another with a separate dispatch center, the call has to be relayed through two dispatch centers. That can result in a brief delay.