With a state-mandated July 1 deadline looming, Forest Park is still in the early stages of negotiations that will determine the future of its dispatch center for emergency services.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said Monday the village is in talks to possibly join the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center (WESCOM), which oversees emergency requests for Oak Park, River Forest, Park Ridge and Elmwood Park. Previously, the village had also looked into joining with North Riverside, which will soon combine their operations with Brookfield and Riverside.
But Forest Park already has partnership agreements with Oak Park and River Forest, and they share a majority of boundaries with those village, Gillian said, in discussing reasons for joining WESCOM.
“Clearly, WESCOM offers the best option,” Gillian said. “We already work very closely with both communities.”
But Forest Park is still in the preliminary stages for a possible deal, Gillian said. So far, the village has not seen any hard numbers on what it will end up costing them.
And the village isn’t particularly happy with having to make that choice.
“There’s a lot of hesitation,” Gillian said. “If this wasn’t state-mandated we wouldn’t be doing it.”
Gillian doesn’t think consolidating emergency dispatch services will save the village money. More likely, he said, it will cost the village more.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the consolidated dispatch law on June 29, 2015, after it was passed by the Illinois General Assembly last summer. The law requires towns throughout the state with populations of less than 25,000 to consolidate their dispatch operations by mid-2017 to reach that population number.
Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke said his department will likely play a small role in the decision. Largely, he said, coming up with an agreement for shared services will fall on the shoulders of Police Chief Tom Aftanas and Gillian.
Aftanas was unavailable for comment Monday.
At the end of the day, Glinke said he only hopes that the quality of services won’t be reduced and that at some point in the future the village will see savings through a partnership.
“This one caught a lot of people by surprise,” Glinke said. “Everyone is questioning the motivation for it. But all we really care about on the fire side is making sure we have solid communication. That said, we’re happy with what we have now.”
Glinke added he thought it was a good idea for the village to look into consolidation, but he was wasn’t sure if he — or the village — would have supported a change if not for the mandate.
“I think it’s our duty, as government, to look at all the options and see if you can improve services and save money [for taxpayers], but we don’t know what this will look like yet,” he said, expressing concern about the added pressure WESCOM would be under with the addition of Forest Park, as well as what Forest Park may end up on the hook for.
For example, he said, if WESCOM outgrows its dispatch center, currently located in River Forest, then Forest Park would be required to chip in for the creation of a new facility.
Gillian said the village is on track to meet the July 1 deadline to submit a plan for consolidation to the state. Because the deadline is a little over a month away, Gillian said he hopes to have numbers to present to the village soon.
What will happen to Forest Park’s current dispatchers is anyone’s guess, he said. He doesn’t know how many would be hired on by WESCOM if the village consolidates.