We are all indebted to Steve Whittaker for his excellent description of chaotic arrangements for public safety communications in our communities.
Although it is a critical and accurate summary of the financial and organizational deficits of communications that are vital to public safety, it is fundamentally optimistic.
The Central Vermont Public Safety Authority, of which I have been chair since 2019, began in 2012 when a group of involved citizens saw the wisdom of communities working together as one unit to improve police, fire and emergency medical services. The potential to reach that goal has always foundered on the reality that people in power are jealous to preserve it and likely to obstruct change. In spite of that reality, people such as Whittaker and those on the Authority board of directors continue to strive to plan for a different future to bring to the community sound ideas and best information to enhance everyone’s safety.
Two things that are essential are large public expenditures be overseen by a publicly elected board, and such expenditures be subject to competitive bidding. For example, the Vermont State Police recently discontinued providing free dispatching services to several towns. VSP calculated its cost to provide the service to be about $53 per call.
On the other hand, a computation by the towns served by the Central Vermont Mutual Fire System estimate their cost per call is approximately $86. I’m sure there are a lot of explanations for this astonishing variance, but it appears there are cost savings in efficiencies of larger systems. They should be examined.
The CVPSA Board has asked communication experts with national reputations to look at what communication systems we have, identify where they can be improved, and provide us with a detailed report on what is the best path forward. This is what the voters agreed should take place and we intend to do so. CVPSA will open bids for that service next month, and hope for a plan that can be realized, with anticipated federal funds for public safety in the next coronavirus relief act. Optimism may be foolish, but the reverse is disaster.
Kimberly Cheney is CVPSA chairperson in Montpelier.