Moving Ogdensburg’s 911 dispatch too quickly would ‘pose many risks,’ says county emergency official

WWNY Moving Ogdensburg’s 911 dispatch too quickly would ‘pose many risks,’ says county emergency official

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A day after Ogdensburg City Council approved transferring 911 dispatch service from city police to St. Lawrence County, there’s a word of warning about moving too quickly.

During their meeting Monday night, lawmakers voted to make the switch by January 1, 2021 and threatened legal action if the county fails to meet that deadline.

However, the head of St. Lawrence County Emergency Services says that’s not enough time.

In a memo to city council, Emergency Services Director Matthew Denner says consolidation is “the best move,” but raises concerns about the speed of making such a transition.

“I felt that a year was pushing it close to achieve, but 3 months would defiantly pose many risks,” he wrote. “Abrupt consolidation of dispatch would be detrimental to public safety not only to the residents and visitors of the City of Ogdensburg, but to St. Lawrence County as a whole as well as our law enforcement officers in the field. This consolidation must be carefully planned in order to be successfully executed.”

Denner outlined a number of concerns such as a shortage of necessary equipment and personnel.

He said at least 4 additional full-time dispatchers must be hired in order to handle the extra call volume as well as ensure officer and public safety.

“These dispatchers, even if transitioning from Ogdensburg Police Dispatch, must be certified as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher, complete 12 month probationary period, and be shadowed by Dispatch Trainers to learn our current system and day-to-day operations,” Denner wrote in the memo.

He added the county needs more physical space, a new radio system and an overhaul of the phone system.

7 News spoke with the Joseph Lightfoot, the chair of the county Board of Legislators.

“Our position is that we’re certainly willing to look at it. We’re not willing to be dictated to, to how things are going to happen. It has to be a joint effort, it has to be a well thought-out plan,” he said.

We also reached out to Ogdensburg City Manager Stephen Jellie, who said the city supports developing a comprehensive plan for consolidation.

“Should it be determined that a greater amount of time is required than that directed by City Council, I will present an updated plan to them for approval. Discussions on this topic have been on-going since the New York State Financial Restructuring Board issued this as a recommendation in June 2019; City Council expects decisive action prior to the end of 2020,” said Jellie in an email.

According to Denner, costs of the transfer would have to be negotiated. Lightfoot said he expects the city to shoulder part of the financial burden.

Jellie said the city would negotiate.

“However, the City of Ogdensburg does not expect to contribute significantly or at all to the upgrades as we have secured a commitment for at least $300,000 from the NYS Financial Restructuring Board and SLC currently collects all the 911 tax levied on phone bills,” Jellie wrote in an email to 7 News.

See Denner’s full memo below:

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