A dispatcher at the Colchester Police Department, who currently dispatches for Milton, is pictured on Tuesday morning. Town officials recently announced they are exploring a partnership with South Burlington emergency services. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

In the midst of a countywide effort to regionalize emergency response services, the municipality that handles Milton dispatch is considering a merger with South Burlington, officials said.

Colchester, which has dispatched Milton emergency crews since 1998, is enacting a “pilot project” with South Burlington that is separate from but in support of countywide consolidation, Colchester town manager Dawn Francis announced last week.

Milton Selectboard chairman Darren Adams, who represents Milton on the joint survey committee studying dispatch regionalization for Chittenden County, said this merger could pave the way for larger consolidation.

“They’re looking at it as wading into the regional dispatch concept,” Adams said.

Notified of the South Burlington proposal last week, Adams said Colchester officials ensured Milton’s contract with Colchester won’t falter. They also advised Milton won’t see any significant change in service, he added. Currently, Milton reimburses Colchester based on its share of calls, wages, supervision, overhead and equipment.

“Colchester needs and wants to do this, and unless we go to another dispatch service, we’re hooked in with them at this time,” Adams said.

Since Milton banded with Colchester dispatch due to budget constraints, Adams said the town has been satisfied with its services.

Details for Colchester’s new proposal are sparse, though, including whether the smaller merger would require voter approval, like the larger union municipal district being considered by the full committee.

Recently elected chairman of the joint survey committee, Colchester assistant town manager Aaron Frank said specifics are still being fleshed out.

“We haven’t even defined the process; we’ve said we’re going to explore it,” Frank said. “Certainly it will come back to the boards and the councils as would be appropriate. It is all to be sorted out.”

Factors such as South Burlington’s familiarity with records management system Valcour and its geographical proximity led to Colchester’s decision, Frank said.

Many other towns represented on the study committee use Valcour as well. So far, Shelburne, Burlington, Williston and Winooski have appointees on the committee. Essex is yet to jump on board, but will appoint someone in the coming weeks.

The committee is now finalizing an agreement for the attorney general’s review to create a Chittenden County Public Safety Authority.

For Adams and a few others, it was important that not only town and city managers be appointed for the eventual executive board of the union municipal district, an arrangement subject to voter approval.

In a meeting with Frank, Adams stressed the need for diverse membership on the board despite how managers have broader understanding of finances and human resources.

“But there’s more to it when talking about a regional board at this scale,” Adams said, noting the committee wants use the consolidation as a model for future agreements.

Committee members recently visited a regionalized dispatch center in Warren County, N.Y. to observe the inner workings of a structure that could possibly be adopted in Vermont. They met with police chiefs and emergency service personnel in the area, which is similar in size and makeup to Chittenden County, Adams said.

The sooner the smaller merger between Colchester and South Burlington is completed, the better, Adams said. South Burlington dispatchers would learn the Colchester-Milton area and vice versa, and towns will implement radio frequency alterations.

“[It’ll be a] significant effort to make this happen,” Adams said.

The same goes for the larger committee’s unification work.

Regionalization agreements and details must be decided in time for a vote on Town Meeting Day 2018. Milton residents will determine if the concept and budget for consolidation is worth moving forward with.

The survey committee’s work is the result of a nine-town study compiled by California consulting firm Deltawrx, presented to the community in early February.

While possible savings are a leading factor in consolidation efforts, Deltawrx’s main focus was nailing down how to decrease the existing average 90-second delay between a 911 call and the dispatch of units.

Colchester’s move with South Burlington will be helpful in figuring out the kinks of a larger consolidation, Adams said.

“We will be able to go into this by a more step by step approach,” he added.

The joint survey committee meets again Wednesday, May 24 from 8 – 10 a.m. in the Champlain Room at the Colchester town offices. Past meeting minutes and more information about the CCRPC study are available at http://bit.ly/2kk1Xup.