Towns rethink alliances and contracts

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LEWISTON — Emergency calls from Poland for an ambulance or a firetruck will soon be routed to a computer terminal in Lewiston-Auburn’s 911 center.

For $20,000 per year, $2,000 more than it paid Androscoggin County for its service, the town will get state-of-the-art technology, including services that track the location of incoming calls and give the town the ability to alert large numbers by telephone.

“It’s much more the future of dispatching,” Poland Town Manager Dana Lee said Monday. “And it’s ever so slightly more money.”

The change begins July 1.

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Lee believes more towns may follow Poland’s lead.

“Maybe this will be a wake-up call,” he said. After all, a third appointed dispatch committee is finishing its work in the coming weeks without deciding conclusively where a new Androscoggin County dispatch center ought to be located.

“It’s analysis paralysis,” Lee said. “We didn’t want to wait any longer.”

The town had another choice, he said. It’s a message that neighbor Mechanic Falls has also adopted.

Town councilors directed Town Manager John Hawley to request estimates from the Maine State Police and both Androscoggin and Oxford counties for a possible takeover of police duties.

If replaced, the town’s little force would be dissolved.

“We’re trying to save money,” Hawley said.

The estimates have yet to come rolling in.

On Monday, Randall Greenwood, the chairman of the Androscoggin County Commission, drafted a letter to Hawley asking for more time to put together a response to his two-page plea.

In Oxford County, neither Sheriff Wayne Gallant nor Chief Deputy Dane Tripp had seen Hawley’s request letter, but they had heard about it, Tripp said.

He’d never heard of a county providing law enforcement in another county’s town.

“I don’t think we’d get in a situation like that,” Tripp said. “We’ve got plenty to handle.”

Maine State Police Lt. Walter Gryzb, who commands his agency’s Gray barracks, said he hadn’t heard about the request, but the state does have a “resident trooper program” to answer such requests.

The town of Gray inquired about it a year ago, Gryzb said. The cost was more than $100,000 a year for one trooper and a 40-hour week.

It’s uncertain whether there would be savings for Mechanic Falls or whether those savings would be worth it, Hawley said.

For about five months last year, Poland and Mechanic Falls shared a code enforcement officer. But the workload, particularly in Poland, was too high, Hawley said. He also examined contracting with a private company to take over the jobs of the town’s public works department.

The cost was too high, he said.

When the discussion ends, Hawley figures the town will likely keep its police department, he said.

Talk about it has already led one of the town’s five full-time officers to quit, he said.

The biggest opposition would likely come from residents, who loudly objected to contracting away their department five years ago.

For Lee in Poland, the decision to leave the county dispatch service heard few objections.

Androscoggin County leaders have openly admitted that its dispatching equipment is aging. Commissioner Greenwood vowed Monday that the county will move forward on a replacement this year.

He said he was shocked by Lee’s announcement that a deal was struck with Lewiston-Auburn 911.

Lee believed it had to be done, he said.

Glitches have begun to worry people that the whole county system might fail and someone could be hurt as they wait for an ambulance or a firetruck. That would force changes to be made quickly, he said

“But we don’t want to wait for that to happen,” he said.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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