Calais opts to disband dispatch service

Posted March 12, 2010, at 10:24 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — Calais councilors voted Thursday night to disband the city’s emergency dispatching services.

The council had been mulling the move for weeks, citing a loss in state revenues and a need to make deep budget cuts.

When three of the four current dispatchers announced they were leaving their positions, the time seemed right.

“Am I happy about this? No,” Police Chief David Randall told the council. “But now we can move forward. We will do the best we can to make it work.”

All fire and police calls for the county, except for Calais, Indian Township and Machias fire and ambulance, now are handled by Washington County’s Regional Communications Center in Machias. Because all of the details have not been worked out, including adding some part-time officers and purchasing new equipment, a final estimate of what the city will save by shifting services to the RCC is not available.

Mayor Vinton Cassidy, just before the vote, said, “I feel very comfortable [going with the RCC]. Our fiscal year starts in July and that gives both us and the RCC plenty of time to adapt. Every community in the state is cutting budgets because of state revenue cuts. We are not unique here.”

The vote was 5-1, with Councilor Michael Milburn voting against the change.

Randall, who presented an update to the Public Safety Committee before the council meeting, said he and Sgt. Chris Donahue have been working closely with the city’s ambulance service and fire chief to respond to some council and resident concerns about the change.

Because closing dispatch services would mean the police station would not be staffed 24 hours a day, Randall said an emergency call box will be placed on the front of the police station and will connect directly with the RCC at a cost of $1,294.

He also said he has an agreement with officials at the three border crossing bridges for those stations to become safe havens in emergency cases. “These would be used for emergencies only, such as if someone was being followed or assaulted,” Randall said.

Randall also said a new surveillance system for the station, which would include five cameras, would cost a little less than $5,000. It would cost another $19,928 to update the police radio system.

Randall also said he has created 11 new policies to cover the changes, but will enact them as directives for at least six months while the new system “is tweaked.”

A new mutual aid system is being created with the town of Baileyville that would kick in if a Calais officer is taking a prisoner to Machias, an hour away, and there is a major emergency in Calais, he said.

“We’re still working on the details,” he said. “In the past this has been controversial but it is time we stopped thinking in terms of ‘theirs’ and ‘ours’ and began working together.”

Randall said this system would be used only for emergencies, not routine patrol or calls that can wait until the Calais officer is back in the city.

“We are not going to keep any kind of scorecard as to how many times this happens,” he said. “It is time to remove the iron curtain. These are hard times. The state has pushed us into working together.”

Randall said his priority in making the changes is the safety of the community.

“The public is going to have to realize that a barking dog or phone harassment complaint may have to wait if we are dealing with prisoners,” he said.

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