Advice for Hire

Posted July 28, 2010, at 4:42 p.m.

Consultants are in big demand lately in the Bangor area. A committee created to look for places where Bangor and Brewer can work together to save money is thinking of hiring one. The Bangor City Council voted Monday to request proposals from consultants to review the community’s Police and Fire departments to look for savings.

Hiring a consultant isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but councilors need to be honest that they’re paying someone else to do the hard work that they can’t — or more likely, won’t.

The City Council focused on the Police and Fire departments, which account for nearly half of municipal spending, in large part because of the Police Department’s $800,000 in overtime expenses last year.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Police and Fire departments can certainly do things differently. The question is whether doing so harms the necessary services they provide. This is hard to prove, but is where any review must focus its attention.

There has been talk for years, for example, of Bangor joining the regional emergency services dispatch system, which, ironically, is located in Bangor. Bangor officials have long claimed that doing so would result in confusion and slower response times. The regional dispatch center has been in operation long enough that it wouldn’t take much research to find out if houses are burning to the ground and people dying because of longer response times in towns that are part of the system.

Going a step further, councilors must ask whether all the services the city is getting for its current expenditures are necessary. If councilors really want to hold the line on taxes, or even reduce them, they must ask whether there are some services that are provided that are nice, but not worth the cost. Prioritization — and eliminating some low-priority items — must be part of the process.

Likewise, any review of Bangor’s Fire and Police departments shouldn’t be confined to the city’s borders. Can efficiencies be found if Bangor and Brewer teamed up and trucks from either city responded to a fire near them, as Lewiston and Auburn do? What could be saved if the Bangor Police and Penobscot County Sheriff’s departments had an agreement to work cooperatively rather than duplicatively?

These are uncomfortable questions, but ones that must be asked if any review is to be meaningful. Further, the city should heed the advice of the consultant, Don Jutton, president of Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, N.H., who said he’d be willing to take on the Bangor-Brewer challenge:

“If [you] aren’t ready to make changes, don’t waste your money.”

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