County lawmakers support dispatch consolidation

Connor Hoffman/staffLockport Mayor Michelle Roman discusses the city's dispatch options during Wednesday's special meeting of the Niagara County Legislature. 

The Niagara County Legislature on Wednesday approved a resolution in support of the Lockport Police Department consolidating dispatch services with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and joining the county's main frequency for dispatch at no cost to the city. 

The move will require the city to enter into negotiations with the Hickory Club, the union that represents Lockport police officers, because the union's contract explicitly says city officers are to handle dispatching.  

Sheriff James Voutour previously said Lockport could go on the sheriff's office frequency and share it with other county law enforcement agencies for about $156,000 a year, or retain its own frequency at an estimated cost of $478,000 per year.  

The $156,000 estimate is what Voutour believes it would cost him to hire another dispatcher and another supervisor

Legislator Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, asked why the legislature was even voting on the resolution if the city still has to negotiate with the union and it's not definite that they will consolidate with the county. In response, Voutour said they were meeting to give the city an option to negotiate with the union because they had asked for an "official offer" to negotiate with their union. 

Legislator Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, asked what additional costs consolidation would create.

County Manager Richard Updegrove said there will not be "a significant increase in personnel" because the calls will be handled by the personnel the sheriff's office currently has. Any additional personnel needed will be discussed during the budget sessions, he said. 

Mayor Michelle Roman, who was present at the meeting, said she has already started speaking with the union and noted they have expressed concern over consolidation that would entail joining the main frequency. 

"They would prefer their own channel," she added. 

Legislator Rich Andres, R-North Tonawanda, asked if the dispatch was at or near capacity. Voutour said that it's close to not being at a level that he is comfortable with, but that the county dispatch is well under the national standard. He added that the dispatching operation can handle adding Lockport to its frequency. 

Before the vote on the resolution, Voutour encouraged local leaders to do what he believes is best for the citizens of Lockport. 

"Everybody seems to miss the big point. What is best for the residents, the 20,000 people that live in the City of Lockport? I never hear anybody talk about what is best for them," Voutour said. "The city has failed their citizens for over 20 years, with poor decision after poor decision after poor decision. I'm offering a plan that is best for the City of Lockport."

He said he's sat by as sheriff for 11 years, and has gotten tired of it. 

"I'm sick and tired of it. I really am. I just want one time for someone in this room to realize you need to do what's best for your residents and forget the damn union stuff and everything else," he added. "Do what's best for your residents." 

After the meeting, Roman said the city will now negotiate with the union and try to offer incentives in an effort to encourage them to change the contract before it's up. She noted that police union members do not like the idea of joining the main frequency and that she would be in a better negotiating position if an agreement had been reached to provide the city's police department with its own channel. 

Fourth Ward Alderman David Wohleben, who is running against Roman for mayor and who was also present at the meeting, said he is "glad" the county passed the resolution on Tuesday. 

"It gives us another option to negotiate with our union," he said. 

Wohleben said he is "absolutely" willing to support going to arbitration if the union does not agree to consolidate and the common council believes it is the best option. 

"It all is what do we think is important for the city. Sometimes you have to go to arbitration if you don't agree, and sometimes you win that arbitration and sometimes you lose that arbitration," Wohleben said. "If the common council feels strongly that we need to go to county dispatch and the union doesn't, that doesn't mean the union gets to make the decision." 

The Lockport Police Department's 911 call center is down to one working phone line, after the other two lines failed. The common council had been considering a contract with Motorola Solutions, Inc. to replace the equipment and provide five years of network and support services for $280,000, but the proposal been tabled as the city pursues consolidation with the county.