Derry Township considering ditching local dispatch due to COVID-19 budget shortfall

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DERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — Tourism has been tough this year, and Derry Township is paying that price.

Township supervisors unanimously voted to explore the option to potentially get rid of their local dispatch center due to over a million dollar budget shortfall from COVID-19.

“We are in a financial crisis in this township that isn’t going to get better any time soon,” said township manager, Christopher Christman.

That crisis was laid out during Tuesday’s meeting.

“With mitigation strategy shuttering, local businesses and tourist destinations like Hershey Park, amusement and parking tax revenue is under performing significantly,” Christman said.

Those taxes are under performing to what could be $2 million by the end of the year, according to Christman.

COVID-19 has brought on a lack of travel, which means less parking and amusement taxes. The real estate tax has also plummeted from the pandemic.

Christman said he spoke to neighboring townships that have already made the switch to county dispatch.

“Unequivocally, all three said that they could highly recommend the call center, that their officers and community members are safe because of the services the county does provide,” he said.

The police chief isn’t so sure the transition will be seamless.

“I believe it can be done, but you’re going to get a different level of service,” said Police Chief Garth Warner.

Warner said his dispatchers can locate cameras and alarms for officers, and their ability to correspond with township entities is much smoother than the county’s.

“These people are part of the police department. They are first responders. They are the first person everybody talks to,” Warner said.

They’re also quite busy. Warner said his dispatchers handle 65 percent of their call volume already, which averages out to 27,000 a year.

“I don’t really think [Dauphin County has] an idea of the additional calls they’re going to receive,” Warner said.

Supervisors said they will hold a public hearing about the proposal as the process continues.

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