Senate endorses regional emergency dispatch bill

Print Email

The Senate has approved and sent to the House a bill that would create a model statute that cities and towns could adopt as a way to establish regional emergency dispatch districts.

The model statute would provide an alternative to the way that districts are formed now, mainly through inter-municipal agreements and special legislative acts.

Since 2009, the State E911 Department has provided $35 million to help cities and towns pursue regional emergency dispatch services, with nearly 200 cities, towns, counties and other entities participating. These regional districts include the six-town Essex Regional Emergency Communication Center, the four-town South Shore district (based in Hingham), and the three-town Nashoba Valley group (based at Devens).

The bill approved by the Senate on May 10 (S. 2248) would authorize cities and towns that are considering a regional approach to emergency call response and dispatch for police, fire and emergency medical services to form, following a local vote, a special planning committee. The committee would be charged with assessing the feasibility of establishing a district, proposing a structure of governance and administration, developing a plan for construction or otherwise obtaining a site for district operations, and drafting a proposed district agreement for adoption by member cities and towns.

The recommendations of the planning committee, and the draft agreement, would be forwarded directly to the board of selectmen, town council, or city council of the prospective member municipalities for a vote on joining the district.

While the Senate bill would allow considerable flexibility in the structure of the district, there are a number of key features that would be set by law. The bill would require the establishment of a regional district board to oversee the operation of the district, comprised of a number of members and a selection process and terms of office as provided in the agreement. The district would be authorized to prepare and adopt the annual operating budget, employ an executive director and employees, purchase and lease land and buildings, incur debt, and generally assume the array of powers of a special municipal district.

Each district would also be required to establish a “finance advisory committee” to the district board that would be charged with the review and approval of any proposal to incur long-term debt and issues bonds and notes. The committee would generally consist of the chief executive, finance officer, or administrative officer of each member municipality. The committee would not approve the annual operating budget.

The operating budget approved by the district board would be apportioned as assessments to the member municipalities based on the regional agreement no later than Feb. 1. The assessments would be subject to appropriation locally, but assessors would be required to raise separately any shortfall from the assessed amount in the tax levy for that year.

The bill would also require quarterly and annual financial statements and an annual audit that would be distributed to the member municipalities.

The State 911 Department administers a grant program to support the development of regional primary and secondary public safety answering points and regional emergency communication centers, including the expansion or upgrade of existing regional primary and secondary PSAPs, to maximize effective emergency 911 and dispatch services as well as regional interoperability. Eligible entities may submit applications for grant funds under the State 911 Department Regional and Regional Secondary PSAP and Regional Emergency Communication Center Development Grant program.

In order to assist eligible entities, the State 911 Department has qualified, through a request for responses, multiple regional planning and feasibility consultants to serve as a resource to communities in the preparation of regionalization feasibility studies and other matters relating to regionalization efforts, including technical, operational, and governance matters.