BANGOR, Maine — Penobscot County commissioners are returning the $450,000 in additional funding raised this year in anticipation of hiring more emergency dispatchers.
Last fall, the county began making plans to add eight dispatchers at the Penobscot Regional Communications Center in anticipation of a consolidation with the city of Bangor, Chairman Peter Baldacci said.
The Bangor City Council’s decision to do away with its own dispatchers and have its emergency calls handled by the county, however, did not sit well with many residents, who initiated a successful petition drive aimed at putting the matter before voters. In a citywide referendum on Nov. 8, Bangor residents voted 5,511 to 1,688 against the consolidation.
Now that the county no longer needs to beef up the staff at the center, County Commissioner Peter Baldacci said, the county is gearing up to send refund checks to dozens of cities and towns.
“We kept our word,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Davis agreed.
“We promised,” he said, adding that the additional money for dispatchers was collected with the understanding that it would be returned if the added dispatchers were not required.
Checks in amounts that will vary depending on each municipality’s assessed value will be mailed out in the next week or so, County Administrator Bill Collins said Tuesday night.
And the good financial news did not end there.
Members of the county’s budget committee put the final touches on a $15.5 million county budget plan for 2012 that is expected to result in the first tax decrease since 1997.
Overall, the budget is slated to decrease by about $206,000, according to a budget summary distributed Tuesday during a meeting of the county budget committee.
Bangor City Councilor Patricia Blanchette, who sits on the county budget panel, applauded the commissioners and staff for finding ways to reduce the bottom line while maintaining — in some cases improving — the level of services provided, “which is damn hard to do in this economy.”
Another budget committee member, Orono Councilor Geoff Gordon, said he appreciated the investments the county has been making in its technological capabilities, which he noted touch virtually every aspect of operations.
Among the notable changes to the budget is the addition of a deputy at the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Glenn Ross and Chief Troy Morton said that new hire will help the department keep up with the dramatic increase it has seen in calls for assistance.
In 1997, the county was handling 8,000 calls a year. The number since has doubled, with county personnel responding to 16,000 calls a year.
Though budget committee members asked many questions, they made only one change to the budget plan they were asked to review. The proposed budget called for making a $12,000 donation to the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter.
After discussing the likelihood that the shelter will be seeing more traffic given increasing home heating costs and deep cuts to federal LIHEAP assistance, the committee voted to fund the donation at the $15,000 level requested by Director Dennis Marble.