MIDDLETON — Six towns — Beverly, Wenham, Topsfield, Middleton, Essex and Amesbury — have decided to go ahead with a regional emergency dispatch center without waiting for other North Shore communities to join the project.
Area towns that make a decision to join the regional call center will now have to be approved by the project's charter members, said Topsfield fire Chief Ronald Giovannacci.
"The other communities weren't able to make a decision in a timely way, so we chose to move forward," he said. "If another town chooses to join tomorrow, it would be up to the charter communities on whether they would fit with the team."
Construction will start sometime this year on the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center, which will be built on state-owned land by Middleton Jail. Giovannacci, chairman of the project's advisory committee, said the center should be operational in 17 or 18 months.
"It's going according to plan," he said. "We believe this will be a model for the rest of the commonwealth to follow. ... Other communities will be able to see it work, know that it's possible, and join at another date and time."
Between the six communities, 78,000 people will be served by the emergency dispatch center, overseen by the Essex County Sheriff's Department. Participating towns have been guaranteed a five-year fixed cost of $16.26 per capita.
"The state is still very enthusiastically backing this project," said Paul Fleming, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department.
The center is being built with state funds and is designed so that it could accommodate more towns in the future.
"There are many other communities that didn't vote no, but have delayed a vote. We believe at some point in time they will join," Giovannacci said.
One of the communities yet to make a decision is Hamilton, which has shared a dispatch center with Wenham since the 1960s.