ESSEX — The town's Fire and Police departments join five other towns to move forward on a regional emergency dispatch center without waiting for other North Shore communities to join the project.

Besides Essex, the center will serve Beverly, Amesbury, Middleton, Wenham and Topsfield.

"[The move] allows the town to have technology and equipment that the town would not have been able to afford on its own," said Essex fire Chief Daniel Doucette.

Doucette said that the shift would not alter the way Essex fire and police respond or the way residents talk to the departments.

"It's just a new dispatcher, working in a different building," he said.

Area towns looking to join the regional call center will now need 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 later this year on the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center, which will reside 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 Jr., 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.

In August, Wenham selectmen voted to join the regional center, leaving Hamilton town leaders to decide if they can afford to support a 3-year-old facility built to serve both towns or join the regional effort in Middleton.

The regional dispatch facility has been designed, Giovannacci said, and ground will be broken once contracts are awarded. Representatives from the six participating towns met last week to review construction plans and will soon be creating policy and procedures for the new center.

Staff writer Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3447 or gt_reporter@gloucesternews.com. Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@gloucesternews.com.

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