Hot Topic

Jerry Wojciehowski says he feels safer knowing that a child who is approached by a stranger while playing basketball on Fisk Street can just walk inside the nearby borough police station, talk to a dispatcher, and have an officer called out to the scene.

Wojciehowski, of Maple Avenue, is not the only Fair Haven resident who enjoys the security and he and other residents speaking at Monday’s borough council meeting described as the “small town feeling” of knowing a dispatcher sits inside police headquarters round the clock.

The threat of losing that feeling, as well as a dispatcher who knows the officers personally and the layout of borough streets, motivated about 40 residents to speak out against a council proposal to join Monmouth County’s emergency dispatch system this year as a cost-cutting measure.

“It’s an instant relief to be able to walk into that police station,” Wojciehowski told Mayor Mike Halfacre and the council during the hearing, the first of three scheduled on the topic. “That is why I choose to live in Fair Haven.”

Borough officials are holding off on signing a one-year contract with the county until Feb. 23, when the third public hearing will be heard.

By then, officials expect that Police Chief Darryl Breckenridge and Borough Administrator Mary Howell will have resolved with the county sheriff’s office any any lingering questions about costs, technology, redundancy, length of contracts, and quality of service, Halfacre said.

“There are issues. We know what most of them are,” Halfacre told residents. “We are working on these. These are nothing new.”

In 2008, the borough spent about $166,000 on dispatchers to answer nearly 9,000 logged emergency telephone calls. That figure does not include annual pension costs for dispatchers on the municipal payroll.

If Fair Haven chooses to join the county dispatch service, the borough would pay a flat rate of $10,000 up front and as much as $58,000 by the end of 2009.

The county would also charge $4.32 per emergency 911 call, Halfacre said. However, the borough would not be charged for any 911 call that was later not logged an emergent or life-threatening situation, he added.

With the system in place, any 911 calls originating in Fair Haven would be routed through the county’s central emergency communications center in Freehold, and local first responders would be dispatched from there.

The county would also cover the costs of any technology upgrades and annual licensing fees, something that Fair Haven would not be able to swing on its own, Halfacre said.

Even if Fair Haven does not join in, the county is still looking to locate some of its communications equipment on the borough’s cell tower located near Fair Haven Fields. With that deal struck, the borough might be able to negotiate a better price, he said.

“This is a really good deal,” Halfacre said.

Still, Jeff Jarvis, vice-president of the Fair Haven Policemen’s Benevolent Association, told Halfacre and the council that of the county’s 48 police departments, only seven have joined the county dispatch services.

“Those numbers in themselves tell the story,” Jarvis said.

But like it or not, consolidation and sharing services is on its way and might be the one way to keep property taxes from driving residents out of the community, said several residents. Councilman Jerome Koch urged the residents to give the county dispatch a try.

“It’s not like we’re joining the Soviet Union,” he said. “It’s not going to work unless we work together. It won’t be long before we’re told what to do. Trenton will tell us what to do.”

But if residents have to pay just a few dollars more to ensure that emergency calls are answered immediately by dispatchers who know the community, everyone will be safer in the end, McCarter Avenue resident John Feeney said.

“The people are saying that the (current) system works,” Feeney said. “Your first duty on council is the health and safety of Fair Haven residents. The second is saving money.”

A second public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for the next council meeting on Feb. 9.

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