ROCKLAND, Maine — Faced with declining state aid, leaders of Knox County communities discussed this week whether money could be saved by sharing services such as police, ambulance, general assistance, and animal control.
Selectmen and town managers from several Knox County towns met Tuesday afternoon with the Knox County Commissioners about the possibility of ways to save money or improve services by taking a regional approach to services or purchases.
No decisions were made but representatives suggested studying further the possibility of a regional approach. A follow up meeting of the group was not immediately scheduled.
Jonathan Duke, the town administrator for Hope, said a regional general assistance office for municipalities deserves some attention. He said checking up on an application for a single applicant can take a good part of a day.
Union Town Manager Jay Feyler voiced support for such a regional approach. He also cited the amount of time it takes to handle applications.
St. George Selectboard member Marguerite Cutroni said if a regional general assistance office was created, the issue of accessibility for people who don’t have transportation would need to be addressed.
County Commission Chair Carol Maines of Rockland suggested the county take the lead in trying to get a natural gas pipeline extended to Knox County. She said natural gas is much less expensive than oil or propane. Having natural gas available could attract new businesses or benefit existing ones, she said.
Rockport Board Chair William Chapman said that places such as Pen Bay Medical Center and the Samoset Resort could benefit from having this fuel source available.
Duke also suggested that the hiring of a regional engineer to help towns work on specifications for such items as road work would be beneficial.
“We’re already spending a lot of money on bid specs,” he said. “There could be a huge savings” while helping to ensure the work is done properly.
Rockport Town Manager Richard Bates questioned whether there would be enough work for an engineer. Other town officials pointed out that unless the engineer worked exclusively for the municipalities conflicts would likely arise involving other projects the engineer might be involved in.
Rockport Selectboard member Kenneth McKinley said the towns should look at the possible hiring of an assessment firm to do revaluations for the towns. He said each municipality at some point over the next 10 years will likely do a revaluation. He said Rockport will have to do one in about a year and a half.
South Thomaston Town Clerk John Spear said the town is looking for a new assessors’ agent and is experiencing sticker shock. He said the assessors are not lining up for the job and the costs are much higher than with the previous agent.
Town officials also said that a regional animal control officer could benefit communities. St. George Selectboard Chairman William Reinhard said it is difficult to find someone who is certified to provide the service.
County Administrator Andrew Hart said that while towns may not save money if there was a county or regional animal control officer, service could be better for communities.
County Commissioner Roger Moody of Camden said looking at a regional approach made sense.
“With revenue service cuts, municipalities are trying to operate more efficiently. We’re all under a financial squeeze. The county felt that it could create a forum to come up with ideas on a regional approach,” Moody said.