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Council OKs cost-saving plan to move 6 police dispatchers to Sheriff's Office

The Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a money-saving plan to move six police dispatchers to the Niagara County Sheriff's Office this summer, a decision that followed almost two years of consideration and employee union protests.

"I'm thrilled with the vote," Mayor Robert G. Ortt said. "We certainly want the union to sign off on it."

Ortt plans to meet with Civil Service Employees Association representatives this week. The dispatchers still need to accept job offers. The deal with the county was crafted during the last year as the city consulted with the union and the county.

If the six police dispatchers take the deal, they will begin work in Lockport in July, with preliminary wage increases and gas stipends intended to ease the transition. Together, they are worth $3,000 to $4,000 per employee.

The new county arrangement also promises no layoffs for the next five years and wage increases that could go up by an extra $7,000, Ortt said.

Other benefits include training on the new equipment at the Sheriff's Office.

A phone call and email to the union were not returned Tuesday. Ortt has heard that dispatchers have concerns about seniority and vacation time not being the same after the transfer. He said the city has followed union rules, and he expects the plan would hold up under an arbitrator's scrutiny, should it come to that.

"Most people out there would take this kind of an offer," Ortt said. "We think it's a fair deal."

The disparity between the outdated North Tonawanda setup -- estimates to upgrade ranged from $300,000 to $500,000 -- and the modern county dispatch center led the Council to begin planning to phase out the city-based service.

Savings in wages in the next five years were calculated at $1.2 million. Already, the city's fire calls are dispatched at the county center. North Tonawanda had been one of three Niagara County municipalities -- along with Niagara Falls and Lockport -- not to use the sheriff's dispatch center.

"We realized we couldn't not do it," said Council President Richard L. Andres Jr. "It's not too often that you get to save money and jobs."