What began as a suggestion during a joint meeting last month between city officials from Presque Isle and Caribou has turned into a working agreement to share the services of a director for the Public Works Department in both communities.
“This evolved from when the two councils met (to talk about possible consolidation of services). During that joint meeting, councilors were basically open to anything,” said Presque Isle City Manager Jim Bennett. “When Larry (Demerchant, deputy director of Presque Isle’s Public Works Department) made the decision to get done, it made sense to take a look at whether or not we could use David (Ouellette, director of Caribou’s Public Works Department).”
News of the collaboration between Caribou and Presque Isle was announced by Bennett via his Twitter account on Sept. 10. Demerchant — who is retiring — will assist in the transition, which will take place over the next two weeks.
“Larry’s still here for two weeks, which will give David an opportunity to work with Larry and get up to speed with what’s going on here,” said Bennett.
Bennett said this was a “good opportunity for both communities.”
“Austin (Bleess, Caribou’s city manager) and I reached the agreement about a week ago. We agreed to use David’s services, with Presque Isle paying Caribou $850 a week. This is a salaried position. We have a contract with Caribou for upwards of six months,” he said. “It could be a shorter period. It just depends how things work out.”
The city manager said as things progress over the next four to six weeks, both cities will consider their options and what makes the most sense for their budgets.
“David will work with Dana (Fowler, Presque Isle’s director of Public Services, who oversees the Solid Waste and Public Works departments). Dana’s position hasn’t changed at this point,” he said.
Bennett said help wanted ads are currently being run for both a public works director and deputy public works director, in an effort to keep the city’s options open. City officials want to be sure this plan is in the best interest of taxpayers and the city’s overall budget before writing anything in stone.
Ouellette will split his time between Caribou and Presque Isle.
“Obviously he’ll be in Caribou too. For the immediate future he’ll be spending a lot of time initially getting a handle on what’s going on here, with Larry’s help,” said Bennett.
Bennett said officials with the two cities are hopeful this will serve as a model for future consolidation of services.
“We both get to stick our toes in the water and agreed to look at other things. From here, we’ll take a look at where we go next,” said Bennett.
City Councilor Craig Green expressed support for the decision to share a public works director with Caribou.
“This is a great idea. Larger communities with three and four times the population of Presque Isle can operate with one director for a department, there’s no reason we can’t do similar,” said Green.
Green said Mapleton, Chapman and Castle Hill have become role models for their tri-community teamwork.
“Those three towns have had great success working together. Caribou and Presque Isle could too. We’ll look at more ways we can work together to cut costs for both cities at our meeting in October,” said Green. “There may be other we could share services or personnel.”
A second joint meeting between Caribou and Presque Isle officials has been set for Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Northern Maine Community College, with the time tentatively set for 6 p.m.