BANGOR, Maine — Bangor voters on Tuesday rebuffed the City Council’s attempt to consolidate the city’s emergency dispatch services with those of Penobscot County.
Residents voted 5,511 to 1,688 — 76.6 percent to 23.4 percent — to overturn the council’s decision to pursue consolidation.
Bangor dispatcher Jim Morrill, who spearheaded the drive to overturn the council’s consolidation effort, was understandably ecstatic.
“I’m very pleased with the result. We’re very happy with the numbers,” Morrill said. “We were actually thinking the numbers might be a little lower, 65 to 35 percent.”
Peter Baldacci of Bangor, chairman of the Penobscot County commissioners, was not happy with the vote.
“I think this has been discussed by the council in the past, although this is the first time the council was in support overwhelmingly of having it go to regional dispatch,” said Baldacci. “As a Bangor taxpayer, I’m certainly disappointed with the result, but you have to respect the final vote and we’ll move forward.”
The vote means the city will keep and continue operating its own emergency services dispatch unit for police, fire and ambulance services rather than transferring its dispatchers and emergency services to the Penobscot Regional Communications Center in Bangor.
“It would have meant an increase in our [Penobscot County] budget, but we thought it was proper and appropriate,” said Baldacci. “I think clearly the state, based on a study done for the [Public Utility Commission’s] Kimball Report, wants dispatches consolidated at the county level throughout the state.”
“So I certainly think there will be an effort by the state to continue to move in that direction and encourage that,” Baldacci continued. “But I think at this point for the foreseeable immediate future, Bangor will operate its own dispatch.”
The latest attempt to consolidate the services Bangor Emergency Dispatch provides and the services the city pays for from the Penobscot Regional Communications Center comes after the City Council voted to enter into consolidation talks with the regional dispatch.
Jim Ryan, executive director of the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, said before the vote that it would make sense for Bangor to join, especially since the city already pays 23 percent of the county communications agency’s budget.
“It costs Bangor $562,000 annually to operate its own dispatch and another $380,000 for help fund the regional center,” Ryan said in a previous BDN story. “In Bangor’s case, they’re automatically going to save money. They’ll have their own operations at a cost of about $112,000 [if voters approved the council decision].”
Ryan said the regional center services 13 law enforcement agencies now and 91 total with all emergency departments.
“We can work with our city councilors now that we see the people want to keep their local control over their dispatch services,” said Morrill. “Basically what this means is that Bangor will maintain its own dispatch center for the next three years, barring a citizens’ initiative.”
“What we need to do now is do something that works for both us and the communities around us,” Morrill added. “I know there’s some cost savings we need to address with Bangor paying both for its own dispatch and paying into PRCC. There’s got to be a middle ground and hopefully we’ll find it.”