May 26, 2018
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Bangor officials discuss merging dispatch services

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Another year, another discussion about the city of Bangor joining the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center for fire and police dispatch services.

And, like so many times before, a refrain of familiar concern has emerged.

Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia, Fire Chief Jeff Cammack and City Manager Edward Barrett each told councilors a version of the same thing on Wednesday: joining Penobscot County would not save enough money to make up for a drop-off in services.

“It’s not because I don’t think regionalization is a good idea or because I think Penobscot County dispatchers can’t do the job, but I think our dispatchers can give the best services to our citizens,” Gastia said at a Bangor City Council workshop. “And I say that with 27 years of experience.”

City councilors had requested Wednesday’s workshop to take another look at the idea of consolidating dispatch services in an effort to save the city money. As it is right now, Bangor pays county property taxes to support a regional dispatch service that it doesn’t use.

However, in a lengthy memo prepared by Barrett and presented to the four city councilors who participated in Wednesday’s discussion, combining dispatch services likely would not save Bangor any money.

According to estimates, the city would save about $577,000 by cutting its dispatch program, but would spend an estimated $650,000 to transfer those costs to the county level. Basically, the city would shift the personnel costs, but there would be some added clerical positions needed, based on city projections. The $650,000 in cost also includes a dispatch supervisor position, but even if that were eliminated, the switch would likely allow the city to break even.

City councilor Rick Bronson, who also is the fire chief for the city of Brewer, said the decisions should not be all about dollars.

“We need to understand what we’re losing or gaining,” Bronson said, indicating he did not support consolidation.

Councilor Peter D’Errico said he saw and heard nothing to convince him to go against city staff recommendation.

Councilor Pat Blanchette did not offer any opinion on Wednesday.

Council Chair Gerry Palmer, who has indicated a willingness in the past to join Penobscot County, pointed out that Bangor is the only city left in the county to have its own dispatch service. Palmer did not further express his opinions about what the staff presented.

Costs aside, the biggest issue seemed to be a potential loss of control. Bangor police and fire officials do not want to relinquish that control. Additionally, they point to the city’s own dispatchers as having local knowledge that exceeds anything Penobscot County could offer.

City councilors are likely to have a similar discussion Thursday night during a joint meeting with Penobscot County commissioners. Palmer said that meeting would help determine whether the City Council takes the next step.

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