The Cooperation Onion

Posted July 01, 2010, at 7:50 p.m.

Members of a Bangor-Brewer committee that is supposed to find ways for the communities to work together to save money is thinking about hiring a consultant because they haven’t found any ways — to save money. They don’t need a consultant to look for savings; they need a consultant to help them find their backbones.

The 14-member advisory group was created by the adjacent cities as a means to look for places where they could cooperate and, therefore, reduce expenses.

Just creating the group was contentious. It was the brainchild of Bangor Mayor Richard Stone and Brewer City Councilor Joe Ferris. The Bangor City Council approved the creation of the group by a vote of 7-2 in April 2009. The Brewer council rejected it because it called for $1.5 million in annual savings.

The idea was revived by a citizen petition in Brewer and it was put to a public vote there in November. More than 70 percent of Brewer voters supported the committee.

After a handful of meetings, members of the group said they couldn’t find ways to trim the cities’ individual budgets any further. That was why the committee was formed in the first place — to see if the cities’ spending could be reduced by working together. It was already known that the Bangor and Brewer budgets were lean. The next step was to see if by combining services and departments they could reduce spending even further.

Of course, this work will be difficult and some municipal employees may lose their jobs — more than three-quarters of municipal spending is devoted to payroll. But, again, the committee was created to get beyond these roadblocks, to look for places where Bangor and Brewer can combine operations to save the taxpayers money.

Retired banker Jim Mullen, a Brewer member of the committee, said in a recent e-mail to other members that “we need to figure out how to best start peeling the onion to attempt to find opportunities for efficiencies/savings.”

Rather than hiring a consultant, perhaps they could chip in for a trip to Lewiston and Auburn to see how those communities are continuing to merge many of their departments and services.

On a smaller scale, the Aroostook County towns of Mapleton, Castle Hill and Chapman have combined almost all town government activities into a single town office in Mapleton. The towns share a manager but are each governed by their own board of selectmen. East Millinocket and Millinocket have shared recreation services.

The committee can keep making excuses for doing nothing or it can take its charge seriously and begin the difficult, but necessary, work of finding places where Bangor and Brewer can merge, rather than duplicate, their efforts.

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