Can we reduce taxes and at the same time be safer? The answer is, yes, and our county is in the process of making that happen. A year ago we reported to you about a study which our county had recently concluded on centralizing dispatch of emergency services throughout Cape May County. Intertech Associates’ comprehensive work concluded that consolidation of emergency services could make us all safer by having more people available to take our calls and dispatch assistance than in our current model where there may only be one person in a municipal Public Safety Answering Point. One person can become overwhelmed when all hell breaks loose.
Not only this, but consolidation saves taxpayers millions of dollars. Their findings for improved safety and financial efficiency were so compelling that they labeled the creation of a regional communications center “inevitable,” and being a matter of “when” not “if.”
On Feb. 3, the Cape Issues group was graciously hosted at 7 a.m. by Martin Pagliughi coordinator of the county Office of Emergency Management in the basement of the library in Court House. We were updated on the status of central dispatch and other safety and infrastructure matters. Pagliughi informed us that the county is beginning the process of selecting an architect for the remodeling of the facility at the airport in Lower Township.
Also under consideration is the library in Upper Township, which was built in a remote place and is vastly underutilized. The Lower Township location has the advantage of the adjacent airport that could be of great service in an emergency.
Pagliughi anticipates Lower Township to be the first to join a county central dispatch system, and the county would plan to hire Lower’s existing full-time dispatch employees, assuming they pass the requirements for certification.
Next would be Middle Township. By joining, Lower would save $181,000 and Middle $162,000 annually. When the larger municipalities join, they would each save around $500,000, he said. Some municipalities are holding off upgrading their existing equipment in anticipation of joining with the county.
The county has yet to decide on the funding mechanism for sharing costs among the municipalities. In other states, the 911 tax on cellphone bills pays for those costs, but previously in New Jersey, this money has been diverted to the general fund. In 2013 $128,000 was collected.
Underscoring what the Intertech report said, Pagliughi has documented instances where three crises descended upon the dispatcher virtually at one time. He said that the dispatchers are certified to be able to walk people through different type of emergencies, and they cannot do that if they are simultaneously flooded with multiple problems.
Peter Jespersen, Cape Issues point man for central dispatch, asked what timeframe Pagliughi sees for getting the facility up and running. He estimated two more years. On another note, Pagliughi added that Ocean City is currently tied in with Atlantic County, but that may be changing.
Jespersen asked about other safety deficits Cape May County faces. Pagliughi said people need to evacuate early. In a big storm like Superstorm Sandy, both Route 47 and the Garden State Parkway had sections which we impassible due to floodwater covering the roads. He said that it is well known that Cape May County is one of the most difficult places to evacuate in a big storm. As the one responsible for the safety of the public in Cape May County, he stated that “the completion of Route 55 would simplify my life greatly.”
He added that Route 55 requires forward movement on two issues; one is funding, and the other is environmental concerns. He suggested that the county address funding first. He proposed a toll road as the least problematic solution. After that, we could undertake environmental issues.
From the Bible: Wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:14
Cape Issues began in March 2008 as a non-partisan group to focus public attending on issues to improve Cape May County. Founding members were Fred Coldren, former Cape May County Herald editor and former Cape May City manager; Tom Flud, former North Wildwood administrator, and Art Hall, Herald publisher.