A new law designed to reduce the number of emergency 911 answering centers will mean a consolidation of three into one in Androscoggin County.

Call centers for Lisbon, Androscoggin County and Lewiston-Auburn will have to combine operations by October 2005.

That will save the state $80,000 per year.But local officials won’t see any savings until the three can also combine dispatch services among the 911 call centers and police and emergency workers.

“It’s been done in other places, so there’s no reason it can’t be done here,” Lewiston/Auburn 911 Director Andy Deramo said. It would be expensive, however.

“The cost of the transition, I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” Deramo said. “The technology itself is very expensive, and then we have to consider a new building and new personnel. That’s why we need to study the problem.”

However, consolidating the 911 centers could easily be done, officials said.

“I can say that right now, the local service would be the same, except there might be a few seconds’ delay for the callers,” said Lisbon Police Chief David Brooks. “And the cost savings? None.”

Answering centers take 911 emergency calls and relay the information to dispatchers, who alert emergency workers.

State saves

A law passed by the state Legislature in 2003 requires the number of 911 call centers to be cut in half by Oct. 17, 2005, when the state is set to sign a new contract with Verizon for the dedicated 911 telephone lines.

It will mean consolidating 48 existing emergency centers into between 16 and 24.

“That comes out to about one per county, plus four or so for state police and a few others,” said Albert Gervenach, director the state Emergency Services Communications Bureau.

That will save the state as much as $1.2 million a year. The state pays Verizon an average of $40,000 per year per call center.

Eleven agencies, including one each in Franklin and Oxford counties, take all of the emergency calls for their counties. No changes are planned for those agencies.

But the remaining 37 agencies must find ways to combine their services before the deadline.

“After that, we won’t pay for those services,” Gervenach said.

One agency

In Androscoggin County, the Lisbon Police Department takes 911 calls and handles dispatching for police officers and the Fire Department as well. Lewiston/Auburn 911 takes all of the calls and dispatches for Auburn and Lewiston police, fire and ambulances.

The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department takes emergency calls for the rest of the county and dispatches for the sheriff’s department; the Mechanic Falls and Sabattus police departments; and the Poland, Minot, Turner and Greene fire departments.

L/A 911 is best equipped to handle emergency calls for the rest of the county. The center takes an average 71 calls daily on the 911 lines, compared to 18 in the county system and 4.28 in Lisbon.

But that won’t lessen the workload for the other agencies. Androscoggin County has two operators taking calls and handling dispatches at all times, and that wouldn’t change.

“The calls would come in to Lewiston-Auburn, but they’d transfer to us for dispatch,” said Capt. Ray Lafrance. “That’s still too much for one person to handle. We’d need the full staff, so no cost savings there.”

And Lafrance said he doubts L/A 911 could handle Androscoggin County’s dispatching.

“There is not a center in this area now that physically could handle all three dispatch loads,” Lafrance said. “We’re just not big enough, none of us.”

City and county officials have talked about studying a combined dispatch center, but nothing has been done. The three were turned down by the state last year when they asked for Department of Homeland Security money for the study.

“At this point, the cities need to sit down with the county commissioners and find a way to get that study done,” he said. “It behooves us to figure out what our next step is going to be.”

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