May 21, 2018
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Protect public safety integration in Bangor

By John Caswell, Special to the BDN

If you were one of more than 9,000 voters of Bangor who voted to override the Bangor City Council to locate the police department and dispatch downtown, the time has come once again to override the council. The concept of taking the dispatch out of the PD and outsourcing it to the county is on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The council needs to be reassured that you meant the last vote; and dispatch needs to stay integrated with the fire and police departments and emergency medical services where you voted to put it seven years ago.

I was one of the councilors whose vote you overrode. Like the present council, I thought saving taxes was paramount and that the voters would understand that. I missed that assumption by nearly a 2-1 voter ratio. So now the time has come to lead the council instead of following its chosen path for dispatch.

The city claims, based on our 23 percent tax base in the $2 million county dispatch budget, that by replacing its own dispatch and ancillary functions through the county, the city would save $175,000 with a total cost of $715,000. The savings are .073 of a mil.

I contend that there are some incorrect assumptions and overlooked possibilities that have financial, functional and public safety ramifications. The county originally relied on user fees to fund county dispatch with Bangor’s tens of thousands of calls not included in the fees.

Estimates were that 40 percent of the total county dispatch calls would come from Bangor if the city joined the county-wide dispatch. How long do you think it would take to go from tax base at 23 percent to user fees of $800,000, which is 40 percent of $2 million? A change in user fees would lower the cost to the rest of the county.

Think of all the financial assistance the county now offers to help with the Bangor library and the arena — zero assistance comes to mind.

Bangor has an aging population, a daytime population of about 100,000, colleges and universities, the airport, two mental health facilities, three methadone clinics, two hospitals, scores of senior housing facilities, not to mention multimillions in city structures and businesses and shopping centers servicing eastern Maine. Yet we want to save $175,000 at the expense of our responsibility to serve and protect the public safety.

And what about the stranded investment costs at the police department when you pull out dispatch which is also a fixed command and control in times of emergencies? Residents voted to spend about $10 million at an annual cost of $685,000 to build a modern, efficient and functional police department and dispatch center and will continue to pay for 15 more years with or without the dispatch center. If the dispatch center were 10 percent of the infrastructure costs, which may be low, you will pay over $1 million for a facility that you have abandoned and may never get back.

A subtle, but important impact is on about 250 businesses that have direct fire alarm service to Bangor dispatch which will be discontinued at the county. Private firms will have to take this over, causing potential for delayed responses.

Things are changing in Bangor, both good and bad. We are changing much of the city to natural gas with a whole new infrastructure for energy. We have a new arena being built with the promise of more use. Multiple concerts are added to the Folk Festival’s use of the waterfront and KahBang continues to add excitement to downtown.

That is not all that is changing. As a service center we have synthetic drugs on the rise, and traffic around shopping centers growing.

The one thing we need to change is the direction this city is taking with the police and fire departments and dispatch. Protect your investment in public safety and vote yes to keep our dispatch at the police station where you put it in 2004.

John H. Cashwell III is a former Bangor city councilor.

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