Confusion emerges over plan to merge Bangor, Brewer finances

Posted Aug. 11, 2010, at 9:37 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The consultant who recently looked at Bangor and Brewer’s finances to see if there are any obvious ways the two communities can save money has issued a report, but it doesn’t list any particular ways to save money.

What the report does say is that there is confusion about the purpose of the Citizen Advisory Committee, the 14-person panel created nearly seven months ago and tasked with finding ways the sister cities can work together to save taxpayers money.

“It seems to some that what started out to be an assessment of ways that the two cities might cooperate and collaborate to save money has turned into a discussion of forced merging of departments or perhaps even trying to merge the two cities into a single municipal entity,” the consultant’s report states.

The report by Don Jutton, president of Municipal Resources Inc., a consulting firm from Meredith, N.H., was presented to the Brewer City Council on Tuesday.

“The rumors being excited by the uncertainty about the committee’s purpose are also reportedly having an adverse impact on morale throughout both organizations,” it states. “A recent vote by the Bangor City Council to solicit an independent consultant to assess the city police and fire operations has added to the confusion regarding the role and intentions of the citizens advisory committee.”

Jutton first met with the advisory committee on July 15 and agreed to look at the books for free. He and Andrew Gilmore, a senior staff consultant for MRI, met with interim Bangor City Manager Bob Farrar and Bangor department heads on Aug. 3 and Brewer City Manager Steve Bost and his department heads on Aug. 4.

Jutton’s report, which compares the two cities and outlines what the consulting firm needs in order to find ways to improve efficiencies, was issued on Tuesday.

“At the moment the operational, management and political situations in the two communities are very different,” the report states.

Brewer City Councilor Manley DeBeck decided to read some of Jutton’s report aloud at Tuesday’s council meeting, saying, “The public ought to know what’s going on.”

Bangor City “Council interference, the loss of a long-term manager-leader and significant political uncertainty appears to have stressed the entire municipal organization to near breaking point,” he said, reading the report. “While department leaders and managers appear to be doing their best, it is hard to believe that service levels won’t start to suffer if things are not stabilized fairly soon.

“Brewer, on the other hand, appears to be enjoying a period of extended political alignment as well as operational and management stability,” DeBeck read.

Brewer councilors discussed the report for about 20 minutes Tuesday night, and Councilor Larry Doughty called it “a feather in the cap for Brewer.”

Jutton’s report did say that there “are already a number of informal efforts under way between the cities that could be refined and formalized” and “undoubtedly other opportunities that can be identified.”

Suggestions made in his report include a complete review of services provided by each city; a review of department operations to align schedules, command structures, personnel and equipment; another review of capital improvement plans of each city; looking at other communities that are similar to see how they work together; hiring experts to analyze the data; and getting city officials and department heads talking.

The Citizen Advisory Committee has spent the last seven months talking with city leaders and department heads and reviewing the budgets of both Bangor and Brewer.

Doughty said enough time has been wasted.

“I think the committee should disband,” he said.

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