June 21, 2018
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Consultant to review Bangor-Brewer books

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — A consultant offered on Thursday to look at the sister cities of Bangor and Brewer for any obvious ways the two communities can save money, but he warned that any real cost savings would not be easy to accomplish.

“The issue is never can you do it,” said Don Jutton, president of Municipal Resources Inc., a consulting firm from Meredith, N.H. “The issue [is] … do you have the will to do it.”

Jutton spoke to members of a joint citizen advisory committee, a 14-person panel tasked with finding ways Bangor and Brewer can save money by working together.

The consultant also told committee members that he was uneasy with the political environment that exists among community leaders and members of the joint citizen advisory committee.

Creating change is difficult enough, but “it’s much [more] difficult trying to do it in a political environment,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to force a marriage.”

Three Bangor council members and three Brewer council members sat in on Thursday’s committee meeting.

“I don’t know if we need a consultant or a relationship councilor,” said Bangor Councilor Gerry Palmer.

The joint committee has spent nearly six months reviewing the financial books of each community and talking with department heads. So far they have not found any obvious savings.

Originally, Jutton wanted $1,000 to talk with city staffers from each community and make a presentation to the joint board about what he found. He offered to do it pro bono on Thursday.

John Simpson, Bangor co-chairman of the committee, said he wants a second set of eyes to look at the data. When the suggestion was made for Bangor to give up its police and fire dispatch service or to stop delivering subpoenas, committee members were told it couldn’t be done or it wouldn’t be wise, which Simpson questions.

“I don’t have the required skill sets” to know if those statements are true, said Simpson, who is a local consultant. “I don’t know.”

Bev Uhlenhake, a commercial real estate agent and Brewer Planning Board member, said she agrees completely with Simpson.

“When they push back is it because they don’t want to change or” because the suggested change is unwise, she asked.

Even though Simpson has said that “any chance for meaningful savings will be found in labor cost[s] in fire, police and public works,” Jutton said that cutting public safety is usually difficult.

Jutton described the Fire Department union contracts as an “800-pound gorilla” and added, “I wouldn’t spend a lot of time looking there.”

Jutton and his firm have spent the last five months working with Old Town, at a cost of more than $70,000 for that community. He said he would be happy to work with Bangor and Brewer but only if community leaders are prepared to make hard and unpopular decisions.

“If the two councils aren’t ready to make changes, don’t waste your money,” he said.

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