BANGOR, Maine — City councilors voted Monday to postpone a decision on whether to combine public safety answering point, or PSAP, services with Penobscot County at least until next April to see if any potential savings emerge out of a commissioned state report.
In a 5-4 decision, councilors indicated they wanted to wait until the state releases the report, which is expected to recommend how many PSAP agencies are needed in Maine. Currently, there are 26, but some states have far fewer. New Hampshire, for instance, has only two.
PSAP is the function of dispatch services that directly answers 911 calls and determines which agency to refer them to. Some public safety agencies, such as Bangor dispatch, handle their own incoming calls for the city police and fire departments.
Some agencies assign PSAP duties elsewhere. Aroostook County, for instance, has its 911 calls answered by Penobscot Regional Communications Center. PRCC then refers the call to the appropriate dispatch agency in The County.
Police Chief Ron Gastia informed councilors on Monday of the pending state report on PSAPs, something that hadn’t come up at last week’s City Council meeting when a similar discussion led to a temporary stalemate. Gastia said if the city waits, it could receive money from the state through taxes assigned to PSAP program-ming. However, if Bangor transfers its PSAP duties elsewhere, that money would be lost. The amount of the potential loss was not clear Monday.
Fire Chief Jeff Cammack, who spoke passionately against the change in PSAP at last week’s council meeting, agreed that if the city sends its PSAP function away, it never will get it back.
Jim Ryan, director of the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center, sat quietly through Monday’s discussion and said afterward that the decision has always been entirely up to the city. However, he plans to move forward with his 2010 budget without the city.
Most city staff members have agreed that there is little money to be saved by Bangor assigning PSAP services to Penobscot County. The only difference would be that Bangor would now benefit from taxes already paid to the county for the service.
As for service, both Gastia and Cammack agreed that the public would not notice much of a difference if changes were made.
Still, the issue of making changes to the city’s PSAP and dispatch service has been discussed numerous times over the past several years.
Bangor continually has approached the county to see if there would be any savings by consolidation, provided services remained the same. So far, there hasn’t been enough evidence to support making a change, although it hasn’t stopped both sides from revisiting the discussion from time to time.
Monday’s decision suggested the debate is not over yet.