Midcoast voters to decide on new emergency communication center

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 4:03 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Knox County voters will decide on the Nov. 8 ballot whether to fund a $3.3 million project to combine the sheriff’s office, the emergency management agency and the 911 dispatch center in one large building.

As it is, the 911 dispatch center and sheriff’s office share space with the jail. There is so little space that some of the jail staff have to work out of the attic. The Knox County emergency management agency is in the basement of the county courthouse. That agency trains dozens of volunteers at a time in emergency response, but often has to borrow space from other organizations because its conference room holds only 15 people.

The county plans to buy a 10,300-square-foot building on Park Street that is currently owned by the Village Soup news service, which owns the newspaper The Herald Gazette.

Currently, the sheriff’s office, the dispatch office and the local EMA take up a combined 4,900 square feet of space in two different locations in Rockland.

The building will cost about $500,000, but would require $840,000 in renovations. Another $900,000 would be spent on emergency communication equipment upgrades. The rest of the money, $260,000, will go toward furnishings, moving, a generator backup and other moving-related work.

If approved, the question would authorize county officials to borrow up to $2.5 million at a maximum interest rate of 4.25 percent annually over 15 years. At that rate, the interest would cost $810,000 over the 15 years.

Jan Dolcater, chair of the Knox County Republican Committee, said his executive committee is 100 percent against the local bond issue, in part because of its poor economic timing.

“The potential, unfortunately, is that our economy may be even worse in the coming year and we should not be burdened with any additional debt,” Dolcater wrote in an email this week.

The Knox County Democratic Committee has not taken a stance on the issue.

County administrator Andrew Hart said the work is necessary, even if the timing isn’t ideal. Plus, the county currently has no debt, he said.

“It’s a tough time with the economy, but this makes a lot of sense. It’s one story. It borders our land. We wouldn’t have to move our communications towers,” Hart said. “We looked at a lot of buildings and this one makes sense.”

The county jail would be a stone’s throw from the building.

Ray Sisk is the director for Knox County Emergency Management Agency, which works closely with 911 dispatchers and the sheriff’s office when emergencies such as hurricanes or floods hit the area.

“We need to be co-located,” Sisk said. “Without them we can’t function. Without support, they can’t function. It’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s difficult now because of the physical separation.”

This year the agencies have worked together on at least 20 major emergencies or emergency-preparedness exercises. For example, the agencies prepare for emergencies that might occur at such large events as the Maine Lobster Festival, where thousands congregate each year. If something major were ever to go wrong at the festival, “communication would be vital,” Sisk said. That communication becomes easier when you can walk to the next office and see which agencies need which resources, he said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/28/news/midcoast/midcoast-voters-to-decide-on-new-emergency-communication-center/ printed on August 29, 2014