Private companies interested in providing police/911 emergency dispatching services for Lawrence Township had until 11 a.m.Thursday, Jan. 3, to submit sealed bids in response to a formal “request for proposals” issued by the township on Dec. 4.
The only taker was a Cranbury based company.
When the deadline arrived, Township Manager Richard Krawczun had only one envelope to open. The packet contained a proposal from Cranbury-based iXP Corporation to staff the Lawrence Township Police Department Communications Center for up to five years from April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2018, at an annual cost of $719,400, or $59,950 per month.
Krawczun said the proposal will be reviewed for compliance with the bid specifications (a copy of which can be found in the media box to the right) by himself, Police Chief Daniel Posluszny and his staff, and Township Attorney David Roskos.
If the proposal is found to be in compliance, the bid will be forwarded to members of Lawrence Township Council for a vote at their meeting next Tuesday (Jan. 8) to either privatize dispatching services by awarding a contract to iXP or reject the bid and maintain the status quo of the police communications center being staffed by municipal employees.
At the bid opening yesterday, Krawczun declined to say how much money the township spends for dispatching services each year under the existing arrangement. He said a “cost analysis” will be presented at next Tuesday’s meeting to allow council members to compare the current operation with that of the proposal from iXP.
“We’ll have that for Tuesday so we can make sure we’re comparing apples to apples,” he said.
Krawczun said the bid from iXP was delivered yesterday morning. “There was another bidder who did an inquiry but we did not receive any bid documents [from that company],” he said.
It was in September that Lawrence Township Council passed a resolution directing the township administration to use the state’s competitive contracting process to solicit proposals from private companies interested in providing police/911 emergency dispatching services to the township. Finalization of the bid specifications was delayed by Hurricane Sandy.
Under the provisions of competitive contracting, cost does not have to be the sole deciding factor in awarding a contract.
Nevertheless, township officials have said that their intention in seeking proposals is to determine if taxpayer money can be saved by privatizing dispatching services in light of the township needing to cut a significant amount from its 2013 municipal budget in order to comply with the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.
While noting that the amount continues to fluctuate based on a number of variables, township officials have described the tax cap overage as being around $500,000.
Ironically, under the confusing and seemingly-contradictory provisions of the tax cap law, any savings the township could generate by privatizing dispatching services could not be applied toward lowering the 2013 municipal tax cap overage.
Since privatization of dispatch services was first brought up as a possibility during the Sept. 4 council meeting, leaders of the dispatchers’ union and a number of township residents have spoken against such a move and expressed concerns about leaving decisions in potentially life-and-death situations to be made by contractors who are unfamiliar with the township.
The Lawrence Township Police Department has an authorized strength of nine civilian “communications operators,” however two of those dispatching positions have been vacant since March 2012. One dispatcher is currently on extended medical leave following a surgery. And another veteran dispatcher – worried he was soon to lose his job to privatization – left Lawrence Township in October to take a dispatcher position with the Ewing Township Police Department.
With only five civilian dispatchers currently available, uniformed police officers are regularly being pulled off the street to fill vacancies in the communications center, causing there to be fewer officers available to answer calls or forcing the township to bring extra officers in on overtime, union officials have said.
Union officials have said the dispatchers are willing to negotiate and make concessions in order to save their jobs.
While the township police department’s annual report shows that officers were dispatched to 52,684 assignments in 2011, the number of phone calls actually fielded by township dispatchers is much higher.
It is common for multiple 911 calls to be received for a single incident like a fire or traffic crash. Calls received via the department’s non-emergency number, (609) 896-1111, are often handled by the dispatchers without their needing to involve a police officer or generate an official assignment, such as when residents call to inquire about recycling pickup or ask to be transferred to a different municipal office.
And with the communications center located just inside the main entrance, the dispatchers are the department’s first point of contact for anyone who visits the police station to report a crime, inquire how to obtain a copy of a report or ask for directions.
According to the bid specifications released on Dec. 4, if a contract is awarded, the township will retain ownership of all radio, computer and other electronic equipment in the communications center, while the contractor will be responsible for all staffing matters including recruitment, training, performance and discipline.
If a contract is awarded, it will run from April 1, 2013, through March 31, 2015, with the township having an option to award one three-year extension, according to the specifications.
Also noted in the specifications is the following: “It is essential that the township move forward quickly to have the contract in place. Therefore, provider must include as part of its proposal a mobilization and implementation plan, beginning with the date of notification of contract award that affirms that provider will be capable of performing all work of the contract starting on April 1, 2013.”