Merging towns, growth focus of meeting

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RUMFORD – Right after Rumford selectmen voted Tuesday night to end their town manager’s contract, another group of area officials meeting nearby discussed merging Rumford and Mexico into one town to reduce costs while stimulating economic development.

But to do that and merge police departments into one, means overcoming turf issues, something that both towns have struggled with unsuccessfully for years.

At the River Valley Growth Council’s town quarterly meeting forum in the River Valley Technology Center, 10 municipal officials from four towns also talked of the need to grow the region – rather than individual towns – to create a positive image that would encourage change for the betterment of all.

“We cannot expect others to invest in our communities if we don’t invest ourselves,” council Executive Director Rosie Bradley told Dixfield, Mexico, Peru and Rumford selectmen, and, respectively, Dixfield and Mexico town managers Jeff Jacobson and John Madigan.

“And by investing, I’m not talking only about money. I’m also talking about our time, energy and attitudes. The change must start from within,” she said.

Rumford Selectman J. Arthur Boivin said he was all for regionalization, giving the example of merging Rumford and Mexico police departments. When Rumford police chief Timothy Bourassa retired in December 2005, Boivin said Mexico police Chief Jim Theriault could have run both departments as one.

“That’s the way we have to look at this, because of costs,” he said.

“It was doable,” Madigan answered. “In cold, hard reality, we don’t need two police departments, or three, in the case of Dixfield, when one will do. But, it’s a turf thing. That’s the thing that has to be overcome.”

He and Mexico Selectman Reggie Arsenault mentioned merging Rumford and Mexico, but doing so would be difficult, because mind sets would have to change.

Madigan said regionalizing communities to reduce costs was one strategy that would overcome challenges faced by the region’s municipalities.

“We’ve done it better than anybody. We’ve got three towns together in our sewer district, six towns in solid waste, four towns in education, and 11 towns in our ambulance service. We’ve proven way before it was a buzz word in Augusta. One police department can cover this whole valley,” he said.

Mexico Selectman Reggie Arsenault said it is time to act, because talking about the issues hasn’t done anything.

“The fire’s been here before. Let’s get it raging again, and get it done,” he said. “Six years ago, Mexico had a night of ‘Let’s keep Mexico moving forward,’ and we came up with some excellent ideas. We can use that same theory on a broader scale for all 11 towns. We’ve all worked too hard to keep our communities alive.”

He suggested that the growth council call a regional public forum “to relight the fire.”

“We’ve got to go beyond creating a growth management plan for individual towns and do it for the whole River Valley as one,” Madigan added.

Rumford Selectman Jolene Lovejoy, who joined the group late, liked Arsenault’s idea.

“We’ve got to start coming to a consensus here,” she said.

“I for one have been a selectman for 12 years, and I’m getting sick of just sitting down and talking about it. We need to do something. We’re all losing population. We have a lot of people who don’t want change, but change happens, and we have to get used to it. Working together is the only way we’re going to get anything done in a lot of these towns,” Lovejoy added.

“It’s mind over matter. I think we can do it if we just change the mind sets,” Arsenault replied.

“If you take a half dozen little sticks, you can snap them in two individually, but, put them all together, and you can’t break them. What we have to do is stand together, because it’s us that’s going to suffer the consequences if we don’t,” Madigan said.

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