Panel at odds over hiring savings consultant

Posted June 23, 2010, at 11:36 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The citizen advisory committee whose task is to find ways the sister cities of Bangor and Brewer can save money by working together has spent five months reviewing the financial books of each community and talking with department heads.

Without finding any obvious savings, members are talking about hiring a consultant to take a second look.

Some members of the joint 14-person committee — which includes the city managers and finance directors from both cities and five other members from each city — don’t like the idea.

The budget reviews have shown that each city is “down to the bare bones,” Brewer City Manager Steve Bost said Wednesday. “They are hearing that from every department.”

“What is it they are going to find?” asked Brewer member Gail Kelly, who is state director for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and a former mayor. “I’ve helped put together seven budgets” and have gone over them line by line, she added. “The only way the city is going to save is [by cutting] staffing.”

The cost for consultant Don Jutton, president of Municipal Resources Inc., to talk with city staffers from each community and make a presentation to the joint board would be $1,000, John Simpson, Bangor co-chairman of the committee, said in an e-mail to members of the panel.

“If the CAC [Bangor-Brewer citizens advisory committee] decides to move forward, we would recommend to the City Councils to approve an ‘up to amount’ to be expended by the CAC to engage this firm (or another) to advise us as we continue with our mission,” his June 17 e-mail said.

Simpson, who is an Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems board member and president and CEO of the Galen Cole Family Foundation, stated in an earlier e-mail that “any chance for meaningful savings will be found in labor cost[s] in Fire, Police and Public Works.”

“There has been growing concern among many of the CAC members that 1) Most of the departments are operating efficiently, and there is not much opportunity for savings,” his e-mail said.

He said, “The people in charge of these departments are well intentioned and dedicated professionals and understandably protective of their employees and [departments’] missions,” adding, “We as CAC members do not have the requisite expertise to know what is really possible in terms of savings without impacting quality and public safety.”

Bost, Kelly and Brewer City Councilor Larry Doughty, who is a regular attendee at the joint board meeting but not a voting member, said they disagree with spending money on a consultant, especially since the joint board members were selected based on their financial and community backgrounds.

“We have the best and the brightest minds serving on that board and they can’t come up with suggestions,” Doughty said. He added that “it hit me like a ton of bricks” when he heard the committee whose objective is to save money would be asking for money.

“I’m not supporting any finances for this committee,” he declared, saying he thinks the joint committee has an ulterior motive to consolidate departments within the two cities.

Retired banker Jim Mullen, a Brewer committee member, said in a June 14 e-mail to the panel that “whether through a consultant, facilitator, or on our own, we need to figure out how to best start peeling the onion to attempt to find opportunities for efficiencies/savings.”

Along with Kelly and Mullen, others appointed to the joint board from Brewer are: Lester Young, former business manager for the school department; Joe Cote, plant manager at Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility; and Bev Uhlenhake, a commercial real estate agent and Brewer Planning Board member.

Along with Simpson, Bangor’s four other members are: Bill Lucy, president of Merrill Bank; Thom Johnston, president of the New England School of Communications at Husson University; Evelyn Silver, senior adviser to the president of the University of Maine; and the Rev. Bob Carlson of Penobscot Community Health Care.

“Can we honestly say that there is not enough talent around the table to tackle the issues before us without going outside, and paying dearly for it with money we do not have?” Kelly asked in an e-mail to Simpson.

Fire and police department heads already have presented their individual budgets to the joint committee, and the Bangor and Brewer Public Works departments are scheduled to give their presentations at 3 p.m. July 6 at the Bangor Parks and Recreation Center.

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