LEICESTER, Mass. — Something needs to be done to address the dire state of the town's police department budget, Leicester town officials said at Wednesday night's budget forum.
The solution, they said, could mean joining Worcester's Regional Dispatch Center, a move that has generated some controversy.
"We simply do not have enough money left, and we cannot sustain the services that we're providing," said Leicester Police Chief Jim Hurley. "We need one of three things: to decide whether you want regional dispatch, to decide whether you want to spend more money on the department, or for us to lay off police officers — those are the choices."
In an effort to provide savings to the town, selectmen are continuing to explore the benefits of moving Leicester's police, fire and emergency medical dispatching services to the future Worcester's Regional Dispatch Center.
Should Leicester be one of the first two towns to sign an agreement to move forward with Worcester, a state grant would cover the cost and potentially result in a cost savings of $249,000, according to David Clemens, director of Worcester Emergency Communications.
Looking at the Leicester Police Department budget alone, Police Chief Jim Hurley estimated savings of about $128,000, which doesn't include benefits currently paid for by the town.
While ultimately the money would have to be allocated at town meeting, Selectman Doug Belanger said the board is committed to return the money to the chief's budget.
Yet residents have continued to raise concerns that the the change would effectively close the doors of Leicester's police station, as cost savings are dependent on not paying to have dispatchers staff the lobby.
As an alternative, Hurley said, residents in need of admittance to the station could contact the regional dispatch center through a phone outside the station door, where inside they could further communicate through a video conferencing monitor.
Hurley also said regionalization would result in a step backward in terms of prisoner lock-up, as it would require Leicester to contract out to surrounding agencies to transport prisoners to be held longer than four hours.
The department is also developing per diem jailer positions to help monitor prisoners locked up for less than four hours.
Though Belanger said there is no definite timeline on when the board would make a decision on regionalization or whether it would be before or after town meeting, selectmen will be discussing the issue again at their next meeting in March.