DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — In an unusual move Tuesday, town officials from Milo, Brownville and Sebec submitted a collaborative bid for fire protection services for the majority of the Unorganized Territory in eastern Piscataquis County.
That collaboration resulted after Sebec firefighters submitted an offer to cover Williamsburg, which Brownville traditionally covered, and Piscataquis County commissioners solicited bids from LaGrange and Bradford for fire protection in Orneville, which Milo traditionally covered.
That bid process is pitting one town against another because all are vying for the additional revenue and the result could jeopardize mutual-aid agreements, according to Brownville Town Manager Sophia Wilson. “Quite frankly, the request to do bidding against one another has really begun to shake the foundation of some of those partnerships,” Wilson said Tuesday.
She said the mutual-aid relationships are more important to communities than the contracts to provide services anywhere.
“We’re just looking for something that reduces the variation between what we’re paying [for fire protection], I mean, when you pay $3,500 for one township and then one right next door to it you pay $10,000 and the population is not any different, one scratches one’s head at those figures,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday.
Wilson said the $10,000 figure was for three townships, not one as Lizotte had indicated. She had submitted an earlier bid for Brownville to cover Williamsburg, Katahdin Iron Works and Ebemee at $10,100 a year plus equipment costs. That earlier bid also said if Sebec’s offer to cover Williamsburg and Barnard at a cost of $3,500 per township a year was accepted, Brownville would cover the remaining townships of Ebemee and Katahdin Iron Works for the same $10,100 a year plus equipment costs Wilson had bid on the three townships. Those bids were rescinded Tuesday in the wake of the collaborative proposal.
Under the new proposal, the three communities would provide fire protection services to Orneville, Katahdin Iron Works, Ebemee, Williamsburg and Barnard townships at a flat rate of $55,000 a year for three years. In addition, the county would be charged $500 an hour for rescue calls, which would cover the costs associated with personnel and vehicles. The funds, paid through the Unorganized Territory budget, would be divided between all three towns, she said.
Milo Town Manager Jeff Gahagan said Tuesday that town’s Board of Selectmen supported the collaborative approach.
If LaGrange or Bradford were awarded a contract, the firefighters in those Penobscot County communities would respond to a fire alarm across the county line and get paid with county UT funds. When Milo firefighters responded with mutual aid to the same call, the town of Milo could not offset its expenses under its contract, Gahagan told the county budget advisory committee last week. The potential loss of the Orneville fire contract, coupled with the 12.5 percent increase in the county assessment since 2008 and a proposed increase in this year’s budget, has him worried, he said.
Both Gahagan and Wilson said Tuesday their communities have invested in equipment over the years in recognition of the larger geographic areas that they have covered traditionally.
Although their current contracts with the county expired on June 30, Milo, Brownville and Sebec, which covers Barnard, have continued to respond to calls and are paid accordingly under their previous contracts.
The collaborative offer expires on Dec. 1. The commissioners will do a comparison study before a decision is made on the collaborative offer on Nov. 23.
Wilson said when the commissioners compare the costs, they should understand that under the proposed flat rate contract, the towns are accepting all of the liability should the costs exceed the contract price.