HAMILTON — Hamilton has an emergency dispatch facility that is less than five years old and was built to support two towns.
The trouble is, the second town — Wenham, with whom Hamilton has shared dispatching services since the 1960s — will be leaving the partnership next year.
Wenham will break the decades-old intermunicipal agreement in July 2013 to join the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center being built in Middleton.
With that in mind, Hamilton's town manager has begun to reach out to other local towns, seeking to share dispatching services with other communities who have opted out of the Middleton center.
This week, selectmen in Ipswich pledged a maximum of $2,500 to study the possibility of sharing emergency dispatch services with Hamilton, and potentially Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Michael Lombardo, Hamilton's town manager, said he will reach out to a third community — he declined to name which town — this week.
"If there's interest, we're going to pursue this," Lombardo said Wednesday. "We have state-of-the-art equipment, so there's no service advantage in going (to the Middleton center). We have the infrastructure, we have the capability, costwise ... We think it's a win-win all around."
The equipment at Hamilton's dispatch center, located at 265 Bay Road, could handle three or four more towns and maintain current costs, or better, Lombardo said.
The Hamilton-Wenham dispatch center currently receives more than $100,000 in state funding each year for having a regional facility.
It's not a question of whether Hamilton's dispatch center can handle the additional towns, Lombardo said, but of how.
Charlie Dunne, a telecommunications expert who has worked on Hamilton's dispatch system in the past, will be hired to study the logistics and technical requirements of how calls from Ipswich, and possibly Manchester, could be dispatched from Hamilton.
Dunne "knows our system inside and out," Lombardo said.
The study will cost a maximum of $2,500 for each town, and Lombardo estimated it will take six to eight weeks to complete.
Both Ipswich and Hamilton selectmen discussed the idea of shared dispatching at separate meetings on Feb. 6. Manchester is not as far along in the process and is still considering whether to join the feasibility study.
"This is something that I do, conceptually, support," said Thomas Younger, Ipswich's interim town manager. "This study will help us make the determination on whether or not we would go forward with the project ... Part of the benefit we (would) have is Hamilton has a relatively new public safety center and excellent dispatch center."
For years, Ipswich town leaders have discussed the need for new public safety facilities, for both the Police and Fire departments. If Ipswich were to share dispatching functions with Hamilton, it would not necessarily mean there is not still a need for a new police station, Younger said.
Ipswich police Chief Paul Nikas said his department has four full-time and two part-time dispatchers. The dispatch budget totals roughly $240,000, including all expenses, he said.
"I am in favor of studying the feasibility of the merger and ferreting out any potential pitfalls," Nikas said in an email to The Salem News. "At first look, this could be a good fit for Ipswich and Hamilton since we are neighbors and local control will be maintained, the radio traffic for emergency services will not be overburdened with the combination of the two towns and local familiarity can be maintained by dispatchers."
Regional ideas should only be considered if they improve public safety services, Nikas said.
"Saving money at the expense of public safety is not something I can support on any level," he said.
On Monday, Anne Marie Cullen, chief dispatcher at the Hamilton-Wenham center, told Hamilton selectmen the facility currently has the capacity to take on eight more frequencies.
Currently, a single dispatcher handles emergency calls from Hamilton and Wenham in Hamilton's police station, which opened in the spring of 2007. All of the center's dispatchers are employees of the town of Hamilton.
"We have a regional center," Lombardo said. "If there are town administrators and town managers out there that are thinking about this (sharing dispatching), we would love to hear from them. I think it holds real possibilities."
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.