Oak Lawn is considering outsourcing its 911 emergency dispatch services if the village cannot reach an agreement with telecommunicators to rein in expenses associated with the operation.
Trustees recently gave Village Manager Larry Deetjen the authority to negotiate with two national dispatching firms to operate the emergency dispatch center, which handles fire, police and ambulance calls for Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Burbank and Bridgeview.
The center also handles fire department calls for Bedford Park and a portion of the Central Stickney Fire Protection District.
Deetjen said the potential move is not a reflection on the performance of the current dispatchers.
“It’s not a service issue,” Deetjen said.
Rather, the dispatch center is facing mounting expenses, which could cause some of its customers to leave. He added that if any of the towns the village serves choose another dispatch service, Oak Lawn would be forced to lay off dispatchers.
Kathy Hansen, the village’s director of emergency communications, said the center also is losing revenue as more people eliminate land phone lines in favor of cell phones. The village receives $1 per a month from customers with land lines. It only receives 58 cents a month from cell phone users, Hansen said.
The village receives only a nominal fee from pay-as-you-go cell phones and nothing from government-issued phones, she said.
“We’re faced with revenue depletion,” Hansen said.
The dispatchers are represented by the Metropolitan Alliance of Police. The union in late 2012 approved a two-year contract with the village after a lengthy negotiation, said Ron Cicinelli, a union attorney.
One month later, the village asked the union to consider cost-saving measures, including deferring the 2.5 percent wage increase included in the contract, regular pay for overtime hours, hiring part-time dispatchers and changing the wage scale for new employees, Cicinelli said.
“The package as a whole was voted down,” he said.
The union filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, which was rejected. The union appealed the decision, and the village has responded, Cicinelli said.
He added that the union would sue the village if it replaces dispatchers with an outsourced firm.
Deetjen said the village will “explore any and all savings by outsourcing or other means to cost effectively serve our Oak Lawn residents and our fine neighboring communities who we currently serve.”
He said the village in December notified union officials of cost concerns after an independent analysis was completed and presented to the village board.
“We have always offered an open door and exchange of options with the interest of our customers first but with respect for continuing the gone services delivered by our associates in Oak Lawn dispatch,” Deetjen said.
Deetjen added that the village “will vigorously defend and support the rights and demand for quality services at a fair price that our taxpayers and municipal customers so deserve.”
Trustee Bob Streit (3rd District) questioned the wisdom of outsourcing a vital service such a 911 dispatch.
“Those folks who work for us in the 911 center, they work hard,” Streit said.
He added that outsourced dispatchers may not be reliable or know the community as well as the current team.
“It will save money, I guess, but will it really in the long term,” he said. “Contracting out the services sound like a good idea until you really examine the facts.”
Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th District), a former Oak Lawn police officer, also raised concerns about outsourcing 911 services. He said there’s a “unique relationship” that exists between patrol officers and the dispatchers that might be lost if the service is contracted out.