Hillsdale’s PBA has collected 827 validated signatures on a petition seeking a non-binding referendum on plans to outsource emergency dispatch services to the Bergen County call center in Mahwah. The borough’s paid and volunteer emergency workers plan to attend a public Mayor and Council meeting Tuesday to insist, among other things, that the plan ignores significant expenses and puts public safety at risk .
“Government services cannot always be run like a business,” PBA Local 207 President Chris Donaldson told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
“By stripping Hillsdale of its in-house dispatching — and certain other services –the mayor and council will not be investing in Hillsdale’s future,” he said, “but rather investing in the county’s dispatch center.”
According to FBI standards, Hillsdale should have 24 sworn officers. Yet the number has dropped to what is now 17, “the lowest in modern department history,” Donaldson said.
The union chief said misstatements have been made publicly and no clear, final cost has been attached to this project.
“There have only been mentions of round numbers as potential money saved,” he said.
Hillsdale police can communicate quite well with surrounding towns, as well as with State Police and Bergen County law enforcement agencies, Donaldson said. If dispatching is outsourced, he warned, new radios would have to be bought and a new transmission antenna built in town.
“Our math indicates several thousands of dollars in upgrades and changes that will have to be paid for sooner rather than later,” the union chief said, warning that the expenses cannot in any way be delayed or deferred.
“Who will pay for that?” he asked. (SEE: Hillsdale PBA chief blasts county dispatch plan).
PBA officials say Police Chief Chip Stalter has designed a civilian-operated dispatch plan, with numbers that show the kind of savings the borough is seeking.
This would keep police headquarters open 24/7 and staffed by locals who best know the town. Better yet, Donaldson noted, it would cut overtime that has gone to having police officers staff the desk.
“Many services and town programs have already been cut,” he added, “and the members of the Hillsdale PBA do not want to see the residents of town suffer some of the biggest cuts of all with policing. As police officers, we believe that in-house dispatching and 24/7 open doors at the police station are crucial for the children and families who call Hillsdale home.”
PBA #207 spokesman Jeff Angermeyer added that the issue “goes far beyond answering a phone in Mahwah versus answering a phone at the police station in Hillsdale.
” In reality, the dispatching issue intersects with so much of what makes Hillsdale a great town to live in,” Angermeyer told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “Community service, personalized assistance, and hometown feel are all part of the current atmosphere at the Hillsdale police station.
“Clearly dispatchers from Mahwah are capable of answering our phone lines,” he said. “The real question is if they can offer any of the special personalized services that we have mastered over the past many years.”
The mayor and council has informally agreed to outsource Hillsdale’s dispatching to the Bergen County Communication Center in Mahwah.
Last month, four council members apparently violated the letter of New Jersey’s Sunshine Law by visiting the Bergen County Communications Center in Mahwah as part of a committee exploring the switch in dispatching services, CLIFFVIEW PILOT exclusively reported (SEE: Chief says Hillsdale council violated Sunshine Law).
Stalter sent an email to the council members following the visit, warning them that an assembled quorum without proper advance public notification constitutes a violation of state law, separate sources with direct knowledge of the situation told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
Stalter was part of the contingent, which included officials from Hillsdale’s Fire Department, Ambulance Corps, Department of Public Works, and the PBA. Arnowitz established the committee, charged with researching the advantages and disadvantages of having the county handle local dispatching, amid what is a volatile debate over the proposal.
Arnowitz has said it’s the elected representatives’ duty to keep any budget increases under the state-mandated 2-percent cap, a percentage that can be increased only if voters approve the move in a referendum.
But citizens and members of the borough’s emergency services have vehemently opposed surrending dispatch services.
As one officer put it: “Some politicians have made remarks that the county dispatch is newer and better and safer. Hillsdale’s dispatch has been working for years as is and there has never been a real problem. Most first responders think that the familiar voice on the radio at the police station is better and safer. You know who that person is and they know who you are. They know the town. They know the history.
“If the council doesn’t put this referendum on the ballot in November, it is a slap in the face to hundreds of residents who signed the petition.”
The referendum movement began as a way to shift the debate from a small venue such as a council meeting — ordinarily attended by no more than a dozen or so residents — to a larger forum that engages the entire borough.
Volunteers canvassed the town and exceeded the minimum 700 signatures required to force a ballot question.