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St. Lawrence County worried about 911 center staffing

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County officials are worried that a state police plan to move its Canton dispatch to Essex County will mean St. Lawrence must hire more staff.

“That’s going to create all kinds of problems in St. Lawrence County, Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, a retired state police investigator, said. “We are not going to be as well served by having a dispatch center 120 miles away. It’s going to cost us money. It will become another unfunded mandate.”

State police are looking at consolidating dispatch operations for Troop B, which covers Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties. They plan to move their Canton dispatch operation to a center in the town of Lewis in Essex County.

“I believe that decision has been made,” said Darcy L. Wells, a state police spokeswoman. “We do not have a date.”

The preference among St. Lawrence County officials is for state police dispatching to remain in Canton.

“We all believe there’s a huge advantage to having them here,” Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

State police said one benefit of moving the dispatch to Essex County will be that troopers formerly assigned to that duty in Canton will be freed up for patrols. But Mr. Lightfoot said the state did not fill two civilian dispatch positions, choosing instead to staff the desk with troopers.

The absence of state police assistance with dispatch in Canton could mean the 911 center will be understaffed because dispatchers for the Sheriff’s Department, troopers and emergency services answer calls for each other when their counterparts are busy, he said.

Ms. St. Hilaire said she hopes the county will not have to create new positions to take up the slack.

“It’s something we can’t afford,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “What we don’t need are more mandates by moves the state makes.”

Sheriff Kevin M. Wells did not return a call for comment. County Emergency Services Director Michael J. LeCuyer said he could not forecast an impact.

“This was all speculation and conjecture,” he said.

Efficiencies developed over the years among the agencies will be lost, Mr. Lightfoot said. What’s more, dispatchers based in Essex County will not have the kind of local knowledge that people who work in St. Lawrence do, he said.

“It is a big deal as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “It’s going to adversely affect police coverage in this county.”

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