WORCESTER /Massachusetts Newswire/ — Keeping with the Patrick-Murray Administration’s efforts to strengthen partnerships with cities and towns across Massachusetts, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray today awarded $7.96 million to communities developing public safety answering points (PSAPS), which will enhance 911 and emergency dispatch communications centers, improve public safety and save money for taxpayers.

“Awarding these funds is another way we are working to give our municipal partners the tools they need to respond to the present fiscal crisis, particularly with public safety, while managing limited resources more efficiently in the future,” said Governor Patrick.

The announcement comes as the Lt. Governor welcomed municipal and planning officials from across the Commonwealth to the “Regionalization Tool Kit: A Practical Guide to Sharing Municipal Services” Conference today at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

“During these difficult economic times, municipalities are being asked to do more with less,” said Lt. Governor Murray. “Though regionalization may not be a new concept, many communities may be unsure of what steps need to be taken to make partnerships happen. The Governor and I continue to support regionalization efforts and a conference like today’s helps us and cities and towns learn of best practices for successful regionalization efforts.”

The grants, distributed by the State 911 Department and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, will fund 12 projects in all regions of the Commonwealth. The projects include the construction of new facilities, purchase and installation of equipment, improving infrastructure of existing regional 911 communications departments and conducting feasibility studies for regionalizing emergency communications services.

Governor Patrick created the grant fund one year ago, when he signed a law establishing the State 911 Department and creating a fund to pay for enhanced training, upgrading equipment and creating incentives to regionalize 911 operations. Under both state and federal law, these funds can only be used to support the 911 system.

“Combining emergency 911 operations creates efficiencies in service and also reduces operating costs for tax payers,” said Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke.

The four largest projects funded this year are Amherst, Hingham, Essex County and Plymouth County. In Amherst and Essex County, the grants will be used to build new facilities. In Plymouth County and Hingham, funding will allow their current facilities to operate as regional 911/emergency dispatch centers for the first time. State funding will also support projects or feasibility studies in Devens, Dudley, Gardner, Springfield, Northern Middlesex County cities and towns, Dukes County, and Rutland, and for the Massachusetts State Police (see full list of awards attached).

As Massachusetts cities and towns increasingly consider regionalizing functions of local government, today’s conference, organized by the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Division of Local Services, Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), and the Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies (MARPA), featured practical presentations from planners and municipal officials who have successfully implemented regionalization plans. Participants had the opportunity to learn how to begin the process of collaboration, fund shared services, and hire shared staff. Attendees were able to receive template contracts, budgets, and agreements which they can bring back to their communities and apply on the local level.

“The Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services has taken a leading role in fostering discussion of regionalization and cooperation between communities in the delivery of services,” said Department of Revenue Commissioner Navjeet K. Bal. “This conference is yet another step forward in bringing the lessons learned to cities and towns across the Commonwealth who are faced with the difficult job of providing critical services with diminished financial resources.”

Lt. Governor Murray also chairs the Municipal Affairs Coordinating Cabinet, which travels throughout the Commonwealth to hear from municipal officials, legislators and the public on a variety of issues to help strengthen the partnership between state and municipal governments. The Cabinet is comprised of state officials from seven agencies, including the Division of Local Services, and works to promote efficiency and more effective management within communities across the Commonwealth. Ideas discussed at past meetings have had a direct impact on public policy, including provisions of the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Municipal Partnership Act legislation.