PLEASANT POINT, Maine — Getting rid of the Passamaquoddy reservation’s dispatch service appears to be part of an effort to address economic challenges facing the tribe. Although tribal officials are reluctant to talk about the extent of the financial trouble, they confirmed a budget-cutting effort is under way.
For years dispatching was part of the Pleasant Point Police Department. When tribal members dialed 853-2551 for help, they talked to a tribal dispatcher who often was either a family member or friend.
More than 600 people live on the reservation.
Now tribal member calls are being handled by the county’s Regional Communication Center in Machias. The change went into effect on New Year’s Day.
Four full- and 11 part-time dispatchers have been laid off, according to tribal officials. Tribal officials declined to comment on the amount of money saved by the action.
The RCC also dispatches all 911 calls for the reservation, something they have been doing for a while, but in the past the 911 calls were referred back to the reservation dispatch service who then sent police, fire or ambulance depending on the call.
The RCC now dispatches all reservation emergency personnel.
The Indian Township reservation is unaffected by the moves.
Some tribal members maintain that the cuts at Pleasant Point were necessary, others are wondering what happened.
Tribal Councilor Fred Moore said Thursday that he was “shocked” when he learned that the reservation was no longer handling dispatch duties. “It was not something that was planned as far as I am aware,” he said.
Asked about the economic woes on the reservation, Moore said he could “neither confirm nor deny” whether getting rid of dispatch was part of dealing with a larger financial problem at Pleasant Point.
He referred all questions to Chief Rick Phillips-Doyle.
Phillips-Doyle did not pull any punches Thursday when he talked about the economic challenges the reservation faces.
“We are in a time of cost savings. So we are looking to see how we can run a lean budget and that is one of the areas we can switch over,” Phillips-Doyle said referring to dispatch.
“We have some challenges financially ahead and we are dealing with it as best we can and [we are looking at] any resources or opportunities that we know of.”
In addition to 15 full- and part-time dispatchers, Phillips-Doyle said people in other departments also were laid off. He did not elaborate.
The layoffs occurred, the chief said, because it was necessary for the tribe to put together a “lean budget.” “Things going on in the state and the country also affect us and we are just trying to tighten up where we can,” he added.
It will be next year before the tribal council revisits the question, the chief maintained. “When we start doing budgeting next year we will re-evaluate it,” the chief said of the tribal dispatch service.
Not so, Moore said. He said that the tribal council was discussing ways to get dispatch back on the reservation.
Acting Pleasant Point Police Chief John Preston assured tribal members Wednesday that they would continue to receive 24-hour police, fire and ambulance service. “All three departments are making every effort they can to make this as easy as possible for the citizens of Pleasant Point,” Preston said.
Discussions about transferring the reservation system over to the Machias center began last year.
RCC director Mike Hinerman said Wednesday that the switch was uneventful.
The RCC dispatches for most communities in the county.
“As far as the RCC goes it is basically just a few minor changes. It is not going to cost us any more people and it doesn’t change the focus of the RCC at all,” he said. “It is a countywide service and we are glad to provide it.”