LINCOLN, Maine — Nine northern Penobscot County communities are exploring the sharing of services and bulk purchasing to help keep taxes low or at least livable, officials said Monday.
Leaders from the towns of Burlington, East Millinocket, Enfield, Lee, Medway and Passadumkeag and Lee Academy and RSU 67 have met informally with Lincoln and Howland town leaders over the last four months. No sharing or purchasing agreements have been finalized, but the process continues, Lincoln Town Manager Ron Weatherbee said.
“It really is all about cost-savings measures,” Howland Town Manager Tracey Hutton said Monday. “In this day and age, communities can’t stand alone anymore. In light of the fact that some municipalities are losing things like revenue sharing, it is really going to be about municipalities working together and saving taxpayers money.”
Some sharing of services exists already in the Lincoln Lakes and Katahdin regions. East Millinocket police and ambulance services serve Medway, and Lincoln and East Millinocket run a joint ambulance service that serves both regions. The Howland Fire Department runs an ambulance service as well that serves other towns. Enfield officials are considering paying another municipality to plow part of town during snowstorms rather than pay for another truck.
Millinocket schools share some arts, education and sports programs with East Millinocket and Medway, with efforts underway to share more. Other Katahdin region efforts, such as consolidation, have been stalled for lack of political will, officials have said.
“The consistent players in the discussions have been Howland and Lincoln,” Weatherbee said. “I think the hope is that we [Howland and Lincoln officials] could agree to do purchases or whatever the case may be together and then we would add people to it once we get it up and running.”
The municipalities are also working together to see whether they could share or rent equipment to one another, and combine training opportunities. The most likely joint endeavor to come first will probably be the purchase of fuel oil for heating, Weatherbee and Hutton said.
With the 2014-15 fiscal year almost half over, Howland and Lincoln officials will likely not institute any pilot programs until after July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, Hutton said.
Howland and Lincoln have been discussing joint services for about six months. They are good towns for pilot-program interaction. Besides being adjacent communities, the two work together informally very well, Hutton said.
“They have pretty active and really good public works directors and they have worked together for years,” Hutton said. “They [public works employees] all know each other and work together to ensure that things get done right. If a truck breaks down, they will make sure that roads still get covered.”