AUBURN — Androscoggin County commissioners narrowly approved a set of rates for answering emergency calls and dispatching help to a dozen towns Wednesday night.
The fees' fate is uncertain, though.
Each of the 10 towns served by the county dispatch center will get a chance to accept or reject the costs. And there could be legal challenges.
Auburn is opposed to the move, police Chief Phil Crowell said. He warned the three-member commission to get a lawyer's help before it sends notices of the new fees across the county.
The plan calls for per-capita fees to be charged to the towns: $2 per person in the community for answering the calls, $6.15 per person for dispatching a town police department and $2.50 per person for dispatching rescue and fire services.
Lewiston and Auburn would still pay a substantial share of the county's total dispatching costs — about $118,000 in Lewiston and $101,000 in Auburn — but nearly one-third of the $600,000 total would be raised by fees.
The fees were established in two votes. One for police, fire and rescue dispatching; another for serving as a public safety answering point.
Both votes went the same.
Commissioners Elaine Makas and Randall Greenwood voted in favor. Commissioner Beth Bell opposed it.
Bell said she was uncomfortable with establishing the new fees.
Makas said the fee schedule might not be perfect, but it's fairer than the previous system in which Lewiston and Auburn pay both a majority of the county's dispatch costs and for their own $2 million dispatch center.
Greenwood had opposed charging towns for answering their calls, but he changed his vote in the last minuets.
"I didn't support charging for PSAPing. Period. End of Discussion," Greenwood said after the meeting. "In fear that the whole thing is going to fall apart, and we would further fragment the system leaving more people at risk, I changed my position to support the Sheriff''s Department, to support county communications, to keep it whole."
Pleas to accept the plan came from Sheriff Guy Desjardins and Chief Deputy Nelson Peters.
"If we don't pass this, we'll be right back to where we were nine years ago," Desjardins said.
"There is no physical way that you can sit down and take all of the things that the county does for all of the communities and separate them all out and set a price to them," he said. "It can't be done."
But it's a good, reasonable compromise, he said. "They are fair. If we don't stick with these, then dispatch isn't going to make it as it stands. We need to adopt this and let the towns say, 'Yes, we're on board' or 'No, we're not on board.'"
Selectmen in Minot approved the rate Monday, even before the commissioners formally voted.
Greene Town Manager Charles Noonan said Wednesday that selectmen in his town would examine the commission's formal notice. Then, they would decide.
"Selectmen will make a decision on that fairly soon, I expect," Noonan said.
When it was over, Makas said she was proud of the commission's decision.
"We came up with concrete numbers," she said. The towns and the county both needed the information for budgeting. "At least we have a point."