HOULTON, Maine — A proposal that, if passed, would have the Penobscot Regional Communications Center or another such entity answer E-911 calls originating from The County is still being considered by county officials, Aroostook County Administrator Doug Beaulieu said Tuesday.
A recommendation by the finance committee to budget just under $190,000 for emergency call services in 2009-10 has been accepted by county officials.
Aroostook County commissioners began considering the move earlier this fall after the Maine Department of Public Safety proposed a 60 percent increase in the rates charged for answering and dispatching services beginning in fiscal year 2010.
The proposed increase is before the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
At this point, the county pays $190,000 for Public Safety Answering Point services, Beaulieu said. The Houlton Regional Communications Center on U.S. Route 1 fields all emergency calls and then dispatches the correct emergency responder.
If the rate increase is approved, Aroostook County could pay $302,000 or more, Beaulieu said Tuesday.
Beaulieu said The County’s finance committee had recommended budgeting $189,768 for PSAP services in 2009-10, and that officials had accepted that suggestion.
“In the budget, the [County] finance committee has recommended that we appropriate $189,768 for that line item,” Beaulieu said. “So what they basically said to us is that if the current service provider cannot meet that, we have to shop around and find a provider that can.”
Commissioners are expected to decide whether or not to adopt the budget during a public hearing Thursday evening in Caribou.
Last month, James Ryan, executive director of the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, told the Aroostook commissioners that Penobscot County could provide PSAP services to Aroostook for $180,000 a year.
Some who would be affected by the arrangement have expressed fears over possible lost jobs and delays in emergency response times.
Kevin Scott, communications supervisor at the Houlton Regional Communications Center, said last month that some feared a reduced staff would lead to longer response times, since emergency calls would go to Penobscot County and the information would be taken by an emergency communications specialist. The Penobscot specialist then would relay information to an Aroostook County specialist, who in turn would relay it to the agency that was needed to handle the emergency.
In the past, residents saw a 50-cent surcharge on their phone bill to pay for E-911 services. In April, the Legislature passed an emergency bill that reduced the amount collected for the purpose of the E-911 system. The surcharge was lowered to 30 cents.
Earlier this week, Rep. Richard Cleary, D-Houlton, proposed legislation that would continue the surcharge at 50 cents per line. He said Tuesday that the purpose of the change is to make sure that E-911 services are maintained at the current level.
The bill will be considered when the Legislature convenes in January.