A dispute between the city Fire Department and the Common Council over plans to transfer dispatching work to the Niagara County Sheriff's Department is expected to come to a head soon.
Council President John Lombardi III said last week that a Feb. 22 work session could include a face-off between representatives of the Sheriff's Department and the city Police Department over who can better handle the fire-dispatching duties.
The police and fire departments both assign uniformed officers to telephone and radio duties. The Sheriff's Department uses civilian dispatchers and is planning to hire five more this year to expand its services to cities that want to use them, Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said.
The City of North Tonawanda already has shifted its fire-dispatching to the county. Lockport's City Council voted early last year to follow suit, but the June deadline set in that resolution was not met, and the Fire Department is still fighting the battle.
Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite said he supports handing the dispatching duties to the city police.
"It would be much easier to do it that way if the intention is to free up one [firefighter] on each shift," Passuite said. Fire and police headquarters are in City Hall.
But at least half the Council is determined to turn the job over to the Sheriff's Department.
"The odds are overwhelming that we'll be out there eventually," Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. "It makes perfect sense. Everybody doesn't need their own dispatcher. It's redundant."
Tucker said he is concerned that the county might increase the amount it charges the city in the future. He said he expects the county to take $65,000 off the city's share of the sales tax to pay for the service, and the city would have to pay for phone lines and other equipment.
"If the county starts going into the red, it's an easy target. They can just change the sales tax formula," Tucker said. "You know [the dispatchers] are going to be unionized employees. This is the county. It's high-wage, high-benefit."
Beilein said two new full-time civilian dispatchers will join his department Feb. 27, and one more full-timer and two more part-timers will follow later in the year. A new dispatching center, big enough to handle every municipality in the county, is to open later this year in the county's Public Safety Training Center.
Tucker said he thought the county would be able to take over Lockport fire dispatching by April 1, but Beilein said, "I would take it as soon as I was confident and the people in communications were confident that public safety would not be affected."
Beilein said one reason last June's city-chosen deadline wasn't met was that the Fire Department never sent anyone to the Sheriff's Department to enter data about city street names and addresses into the county's 911 computer system. That must happen for city to join centralized patching, the sheriff said.