BANGOR, Maine— A preliminary report from the Maine Public Utilities Commission suggests that the Bangor Police Department could be at risk for losing a portion of its dispatch service, something Chief Ron Gastia plans to fight if necessary.
The state hired a consultant last year to look at Maine’s public safety answering points, or PSAPs, to determine whether consolidation was necessary. PSAP is the function of dispatch services that directly answer 911 calls and determine which agency to refer them to.
The consultant presented a report to the PUC that recommended consolidating from 26 PSAPs to about 16, or one per county. New Hampshire, by comparison, has just two PSAPs.
Now, the PUC is deciding which PSAPs in Maine to keep and which to merge. That’s where Bangor comes in. The city’s police department has its own dispatch and PSAP operation, but so does the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, which also is located in Bangor.
Although the final report is not expected to be released until Nov. 1, Gastia said the preliminary findings do not look good for Bangor.
“To me, it looks like we’re on the chopping block,” the chief said Friday. “The words they use are that the PRCC could expand to accommodate Bangor. That might be true, but I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the city.”
Gastia talked over the PUC’s initial recommendations with city councilors this week, a discussion that opened up the perennial debate in Bangor about whether it should join with PRCC for all dispatch services. The issue has divided councilors in the past, even as municipal officials have continued to stress that it would diminish services. Fire Chief Jeff Cammack did not return a call, but he has agreed with Gastia in the past that Bangor should keep its own police and fire dispatch services.
Dispatch was likely to get additional scrutiny in the coming months anyway after the City Council recently voted to consider hiring a consultant to examine all municipal public safety operations. Councilors have long been uncomfortable that Bangor pays county property taxes to support a regional dispatch service it doesn’t use.
Gastia said he understands the cost-savings argument. However, when the council revisited the discussion of dispatch last year, the chief told councilors consolidation could actually cost the city more money rather than save money. Former City Manager Ed Barrett indicated last year the city would save about $577,000 by cutting its dispatch program, but would spend an estimated $650,000 to transfer those costs to the county level.
Gastia made the same point this week without mentioning dollar amounts and stressed that even if the changes did save some money, they would likely drastically affect services.
For the time being, the City Council is comfortable with the way things are and plans to hold off on any serious discussions at least until the PUC’s final report comes out.
“If the PUC comes back and says take away PSAP, the Legislature would then have to act on that,” Gastia said. “I expect that we would go back to them to tell them this can’t work.”