Dispatch Consolidation

Posted Oct. 19, 2010, at 6:51 p.m.

Last week, the Bangor City Council unexpectedly told its police and fire departments to prepare to move their dispatch services to a regional center. This is an overdue move.

Bangor is the only community in Penobscot County that does not use the regional system, even though the city pays $2.6 million a year in taxes to the county, which includes payment for the communications system.

Bangor officials have long claimed that using the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center would result in confusion and slower response times, which hasn’t proved true in other communities.

Then, abruptly, the council last week agreed to move ahead with a draft order directing city staff to prepare to move the city’s dispatch services to the regional center. The draft order repeatedly cited the duplicate cost Bangor pays for dispatch services. “The council has determined that the city should not continue to have its citizens and taxpayers pay for its own communications center while contributing to the cost of the Penobscot Regional Communications Center,” the one-page order says.

This has been true for years, yet Bangor has long clung to maintaining its own services.

This summer, a report done for the Public Utilities Commission indicated that Bangor would lose some of its dispatch services under a plan to consolidate the state’s public safety answering points, or PSAPs. PSAPs answer 911 calls and determine which emergency agency they should be directed to.

The Legislature directed the PUC to come up with a recommendation to reduce the number of PSAPs in the state.

A consultant hired by the PUC recommended that the state’s 26 PSAPs be reduced to 16, one per county. New Hampshire has two.

The recommendation was roundly criticized by dispatch and emergency services directors across the state. “Aroostook County, and any other for that matter, should be allowed to choose who will answer the 911 calls coming in to that region,” Waldo County Commissioner Amy Fowler, who represented the Maine County Commissioners Association, told the PUC last month.

Allowing communities to maintain their own — duplicative — service comes at a cost. A cost communities like Bangor are coming to realize isn’t necessary.

Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia was unfairly blindsided by the Bangor council’s decision to end its own dispatch service. But his case against consolidating the city’s dispatch services with the county’s is incomplete. In the first years, there may be additional costs. But, in time, Bangor will save money.

Councilor Pat Blanchette said councilors would be derelict in their duty if they didn’t consider consolidating with Penobscot County since Bangor taxpayers already pay the county for those services.

“We need to put emotions in the closet and common sense on the table,” Ms. Blanchette said.

Common sense says consolidate.

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