Calais manager explains dispatch shift

Posted April 23, 2010, at 9:32 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — City Manager Diane Barnes said this week that a citizens’ petition to block the shift of police and fire dispatching to the Washington County Regional Communications Center is rooted in miscommunication.

The petitions have sprung up around local businesses and have garnered about 500 signatures.

Barnes said this week that the decision to use WCRCC has been made and is final. The process began in January and is already under way, she said.

Barnes said many people don’t realize that all 911 emergency calls already are going to the WCRCC.

The decision to drop local dispatching was made, Barnes said, to try to save the taxpayers money.

“Because of massive cuts in revenue, the council was forced to make budget cuts, and those were going to affect staff and services,” she said. “The first place they looked was duplication of services.”

The city already is paying for WCRCC’s 911 dispatching, prompting the move, which takes effect July 1.

Barnes said more than $264,000 had to be cut from the city’s budget.

“We were down $160,000 in state revenue, $75,000 in local excise tax, and lost $11,000 in tree growth funding,” Barnes said.

She said the council wanted to keep the mill rate — currently at $24.70 per $1,000 valuation — level or below.

Still, even with the cuts, taxpayers will likely see an increase in their taxes. Barnes said a study of the city’s property values revealed that many properties were being sold for far more than they were assessed. Before the tax bills go out this year, all residential property values will be adjusted to reflect this. Barnes said the new values — an across-the-board percentage increase — will be based on each home’s square footage.

In addition, the state’s Homestead Exemption has decreased from $13,000 to $10,000 for qualifying residents.

“Those two factors will result in an increase in tax bills,” Barnes said. “To stay with the duplication of dispatching services would mean an even greater tax increase.”

Barnes said the council is still looking at cutting an additional $75,000 to keep the mill rate stable.

She said keeping dispatch would raise the mill rate by at least 2 mills, or about $280,000, and Calais residents should be confident that the council has made a safe and responsible decision.

“I’ve been over there [to WCRCC headquarters],” she said. “They have some pretty sophisticated equipment. I am so pleased to see how they operate. Their people are very qualified and capable.”

Barnes said that any concerns residents have about RCC dispatchers not knowing the locations of Calais addresses should be set aside.

“In most cases, they will immediately dispatch a Calais officer, who will know the area, to the incident,” she said. “They also have technology at the center that can show a location within inches. It is pretty impressive. I am very confident that the RCC dispatchers can handle Calais.”

Barnes said Calais is also lucky, compared to the rest of the county, because it has three border crossings that are now designated as “safe havens,” where anyone in immediate danger can drive to one of the crossings for safety.

A call box phone is also being installed at the police station that will directly link callers with the RCC.

Barnes said that since the new dispatching service won’t take place until July, the city has plenty of time to work out any problems.

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