Bernards Township Police have officially reported that the transition to a Somerset County-based dispatching system — which went into effect on April 1 — has gone smoothly, and the township can expect to save about $260,000 during this first year.
The savings have gone into effect after Bernards' headquarters-based system, which had been operated as a partnership with Long Hill Township, was terminated in April, police said.
"This savings includes expenditures made for the one-time infrastructure upgrades needed to secure our building and become compatible with some Somerset and Bernards hardware issues," Police Lt. Mike Shimsky said in an email.
"We are happy...as far as cost savings as far as cost savings and the way we currently operate," Shimsky said during a report last week before the Township Committee. He was accompanied during the presentation by Police Chief Brian Bobowicz and William Stahl, Somerset County Director of Public Health & Safety.
Shimsky later said that there is no plan to change fire and emergency medical service equipment from VHF (very high frequency) to the county's UHF (ultra high frequency) system. The police also now operate on VHF, but will transition to the county's new UHF system to be in compliance with new FCC mandates at some point in the future.
"This will allow the police department to have better interoperability for communicating with other police departments in the county," Shimsky said. "There are also some other technical enhancements with this system making it more advantageous to us."
A major source of savings is the number of police dispatchers, once fully staffed at 12 when the two towns shared a dispatch service, is down to two employees.
"We retained two civilian employees know as 'police support specialists.' These employees are former dispatchers and work a staggered schedule ensuring reception and lobby coverage 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday," Shimsky said. The former dispatchers also are handling numerous clerical duties that have been shifted to them, he said.
Bobowitz said at the meeting that most of the former dispatchers have managed to find employment elsewhere.
Overall, Bobowitz said that the transition has been "seamless and painless" despite some "blips." He said that the county has been experimenting with the VHF and UHF systems.
Shimsky said that most technical glitches involved with the major changeover have been worked out. "We continue to address any that come to our attention," he later said. "All in all, I believe most of our issues are resolved."
Although the switchover to full reliance on the county dispatching system went into effect in April, the township already had been dispatching 9-1-1 calls through the county dispatchers since the previous summer, officials said last April.
Shimsky said the township's fire and EMS volunteers had put in many hours making sure that transition went smoothly.
Mayor Mary Pavlini said thanked the three for the report, adding that the communications system is one of the most important services provided by the township.
Township Committeeman John Carpenter, who had asked for the update, noted that the all-volunteer fire and first aid squad put in extra hours of their own time to make the transition work.
Township Administrator Bruce McArthur said last spring that some other local police departments that had switched to the county dispatching system — offered without charge to municipalities at this time — include Bedminster Township, Far Hills and Peapack-Gladstone.