AUBURN — Eight months after local leaders agreed to create a regional hub for emergency calls, little has happened.
Money to help fund the merger never came, and the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s recommendation to merge, igniting talks between county dispatching and Lewiston-Auburn 911, was never seized upon by the Maine Legislature.
Don’t blame the Androscoggin County Commission, Chairman Randall Greenwood said Tuesday.
“The commissioners are not rolling over and playing dead on this,” Greenwood said. “We have not let the issue die.”
They still want to merge.
Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte met last week with Lewiston-Auburn 911 Director Phyllis Gamache Jensen, Auburn police Chief Phil Crowell and Auburn City Councilor Ray Berube. Commissioner Elaine Makas met with Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett. And Greenwood, who represents the county’s smallest towns, has been reaching out to their leaders.
“This has been at the forefront of what we do,” Greenwood said.
Last fall, it seemed that momentum was on their side.
After years of debate and three separate studies, a commission meeting last September resulted in a compromise plan that seemed to please most urban and rural communities in the county. It called for countywide control, tiers of service and “fair and equitable” distribution of costs.
The Maine PUC repeated its call for fewer 911 dispatch centers. Officials said cost, speed and reliability would all improve with consolidation. Crowell has estimated that Auburn would save about $350,000 if the merger occurs.
A few weeks later, the county and Lewiston-Auburn 911 applied for $50,000 in state grant money to help plan and implement a merger.
LaBonte vowed a decision on dispatching would be final by the end of 2010.
However, the LePage administration and new legislative leadership changed the agenda. Lawmakers have not acted on the PUC recommendations, nor has any grant money been earmarked.
The issues won’t come up before 2012, said Rep. Stacy Allen Fitts, R-Pittsfield, House chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
There hasn’t been time this spring, he said.
“I’m not foreseeing us taking action this session,” Fitts said. “We’re basically winding down.”
Jensen, who runs Lewiston-Auburn 911, said the groups must continue working toward a merger.
“The state still stands by its recommendations,” Jensen said. Inaction this year doesn’t mean there won’t be a move by the state next year. “It doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods regarding consolidation.”
The state plans to launch the next generation of 911 as soon as early as 2013.
“Time’s getting away from us,” Jensen said.