In a 1,176 to 533 vote, Miltonians decided to join a unified municipal district that will regionalize emergency dispatch services in Chittenden County.
Milton was one of seven towns voting on the measure, along with Colchester, Shelburne, Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski and Williston. All but Shelburne approved regionalization, according to joint survey committee chairman Aaron Frank, Colchester’s assistant town manager.
Milton 911 calls are currently dispatched out of Colchester, which has already put money toward leasing a regional center on Gregory Drive in South Burlington.
Officials say the plan will provide a career ladder in dispatching, but some critics worry that non-local dispatchers won’t have the small-town knowledge to direct emergency crews effectively.
Selectboard chairman Darren Adams, a former dispatcher, has served as Milton’s appointee on a joint survey committee studying regionalization. He explained to pre-Town Meeting attendee Mike Thompson that with today’s technology, Milton could be dispatched from a center anywhere in the world.
Jonathan Wheeler, a 12-year dispatcher in Colchester, was outside the Colchester polls Tuesday advertising his opposition to the plan.
While he agreed career growth was a plus, he said his concerns — including mass layoffs and learning to dispatch for a suite of new communities — have not been answered by top officials.
While many chiefs from county emergency departments support consolidation, multiple police officer and dispatch unions blasted out opposing press releases days before Town Meeting.
On Monday, Milton’s Peter Lavallee questioned the inner-workings of the center. Adams explained 911 calls are received in Williston, forwarded to the appropriate police station, which then dispatches out its responders. In the new center, 911 call-receivers and dispatchers would be in the same room, streamlining communication and saving an average 71 seconds in response time.
If Milton wants to later leave the regional center, it must give one year notice. Officials noted it’s too expensive for Milton to dispatch its own emergency responders.
Selectboard vice-chairman Ken Nolan, who has long expressed discontent with the regionalized plan, said Milton will have an equal seat on the district board and a say in all decisions.
Currently, Colchester bills Milton for dispatch services, a cost that increases regularly.
Adams remains adamant the regionalized center will improve services and save some money in the process, though other municipalities have said the cost will be neutral.
– Additional reporting by Michaela Halnon.