BANGOR, Maine — City councilors said this week that they will consider consolidating Bangor’s police and fire dispatch services with the Penobscot Regional Communication Center in an effort to save money.
“I can tell you that there will be a serious discussion about this during the budget process,” Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said Wednesday. “These are difficult times and we need to examine everything very closely.”
Bangor has considered merging its dispatch services with Penobscot County several times over the years, but the idea has always been rejected. In the past, concerns among public safety officials have been that response time would increase and that service would suffer.
This year, as councilors prepare for a host of difficult budget decisions, financial pressure might outweigh those concerns.
“I don’t think there’s any way around not discussing it,” said Councilor Susan Hawes. “Nothing is off the table.”
While the move certainly will save Bangor money, it’s too early to tell how much.
“We’re not at the point where we’ve crunched the numbers,” City Manager Edward Barrett said, adding that he preferred to let councilors offer any opinions about the proposal.
City leaders will not begin discussing the 2010 Fiscal Year budget until later this month, but the consolidation idea was discussed briefly Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Bangor and Brewer city councils. Bangor councilors asked Brewer Police Chief Perry Antone, who attended the meeting, to talk about the pros and cons of using Penobscot Regional Communication Center for dispatch services since Brewer was the last community to join the center in the late 1990s.
Antone didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement.
“They provide adequate service to the citizens of Brewer,” he said. “But there are times when we did it better.”
Rick Bronson, a Bangor city councilor who is also fire chief for the city of Brewer, said the biggest deficiency associated with the Penobscot regional center is that it’s understaffed.
“But I don’t think it will ever be what a local dispatch center can be,” he said.
Bangor Deputy Police Chief Peter Arno said his top concern is what would happen to the 10 or so dispatchers employed by the city. He also wondered about the impact of relinquishing control of dispatch services and whether the Penobscot center could handle the volume of calls that would be added from Bangor police and fire.
Additionally, when the Bangor Police Department moved into its new building about two years ago, it came with extensive space for dispatch services along with a significant upgrade in equipment. What would happen to that space and equipment?
“Those are questions we have to consider,” Palmer said. “I have been supportive in principle of this idea, but public safety is not something you can horse around with.”
Added Hawes: “From my point of view, we need to make sure the citizens of Bangor get the same amount of service.”
Jim Ryan, the Penobscot center’s director, said Wednesday that he had not heard the city was considering a merger but said the offer is always on the table.
“Should the councilors choose to come on, we would welcome them and do our best to provide the same level of service we do to all of our communities,” he said. “Certainly, it would change our operation.”
Ryan also pointed out that Bangor already pays for Penobscot center services through property taxes, which means residents pay for a service the city doesn’t use.