The two largest communities in Aroostook County are contemplating how they can join forces to save money in the wake of reduced state revenue sharing, and according to officials from both cities, nothing is off the table.
The city councils from Presque Isle and Caribou held a joint meeting Wednesday to discuss potential areas of consolidation, and instructed their respective city managers to put their heads together to find savings.
To Austin Bleess, city manager in Caribou, the message was clear: “Let’s think big, let’s think outside the box, and let’s not limit ourselves,” he said Friday.
The two cities will be hit with a combined reduction of about $811,000 in revenue sharing in the fiscal year ending July 2014, according to projections from the Office of the State Treasurer.
Presque Isle, the most populous community in sparse Aroostook County, is down from $1.3 million in fiscal year 2013 to $775,000 this year. Caribou, the second biggest city in The County, is down to $587,00 from $839,000.
Consolidation of services between communities is not unheard of. Caribou already shares responsibility for the Tri-Community Landfill with Limestone and Fort Fairfield, for example. Councilors discussed the possibility of sharing equipment between the two cities as one easy way to save money.
Some equipment, like a machine used for painting stripes on roads, is only used for a few weeks each year, Bleess said, so why should both communities pony up for their own when one could easily be shared?
Other potential areas for consolidation are police, fire and dispatch. Presque Isle’s police department budget is about $1.2 million, and the force includes 14 officers and four dispatchers. In Caribou, $1.1 million pays for 16 officers.
Martin Puckett, deputy city manager in Presque Isle, said the meeting was momentous for the two cities, which share a fierce sporting rivalry between his city’s Wildcats and neighboring Caribou’s Vikings. At the meeting, councilors jokingly made several allusions to matches between the two schools going all the way back to the ‘80s.
“This was the first meeting that’s occurred in about a decade between the two councils,” he said. “It’s refreshing to see everyone have open minds on this.”
The rivalry belies deeper questions about identity and local control that inevitably arise whenever consolidation is considered, Puckett said. But residents shouldn’t worry, he said.
“We’re not looking at combining city councils or planning boards,” he said. “We’ll retain our identity and control. But I think that with these reductions in revenue sharing, some of the barriers that existed before need to be looked at.”
The two managers will meet with each other and their respective department heads to come up with some firm proposals before the two councils meet together again in Presque Isle in October.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to the two cites’ high school mascots as the Presque Isle Vikings and Caribou Wildcats. They are the Presque Isle Wildcats and Caribou Vikings.