BANGOR — A petitioner seeking to overturn a City Council decision to consolidate emergency dispatch services with Penobscot County was granted 10 more days to gather additional signatures that could force a citywide referendum.
Bangor dispatcher Jim Morrill, who began his petition drive in November, turned in more than 2,600 signatures by the deadline of Jan. 4, well above the 2,236 needed.
However, approximately 550 of those signatures were deemed invalid by the city clerk’s office. Deputy City Clerk Dianne Lovejoy said the biggest reason some signatures were invalid is that the signers were not Bangor residents or were not registered to vote at all.
Per city charter, Morrill now has until Jan. 28 to gather about 150 valid signatures to put him over the threshold of 2,236, which is equal to 20 percent of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election.
If Morrill collects enough additional valid signatures, the City Council has said it likely would schedule the citywide vote for June. Residents would then vote either yes or no on an order that directs the city to continue operation of its own emergency and nonemergency dispatch services.
Bangor councilors voted in October to begin the process of combining the city’s police and fire dispatch services with the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, culminating more than a decade of contention over the issue.
PRCC Director Jim Ryan already has begun the process of working with city officials on a possible transition, but now those plans are on hold until the expected referendum. The process was expected to take six to nine months and involves renegotiating a contract with Teamsters Local 340, which represents Bangor’s dispatchers.
Councilors have cited cost savings and a commitment to regionalization as the main reasons for voting to consolidate. As it stands now, Bangor taxpayers contribute about 25 percent to the Penobscot County budget — $2.6 million last year — which pays for, among other things, regional dispatch. Since Bangor has its own dispatch and pays for it out of the police and fire department budgets, councilors have said the city is paying twice.
Morrill and others, including Police Chief Ron Gastia and Fire Chief Jeff Cammack, have said the discussion should not be driven by cost. They believe that services would be diminished if the city merges with PRCC.
Ryan already has said he would hire any or all Bangor dispatchers who want to move over to the county operation, which is located on Hammond Street. The Penobscot County commissioners recently approved a budget increase to pay for eight new dispatchers should Bangor come on board. Bangor has 10 full-time dispatchers.
Bangor’s last successful citizen referendum came in 2008, when voters overturned a council decision that banned left turns from State Street onto Howard Street.
Another petition is under way to force a citywide vote on whether Bangor should proceed with plans for a new arena complex. That petition deadline was Jan. 14, and the city clerk’s office is in the process of validating the more than 2,600 signatures that were submitted.