MEXICO – Selectmen from Rumford and Mexico unanimously agreed Wednesday night to hire one town manager for both towns and to work to merge major departments in each. A one-year trial could become permanent if it works out.

“The river is the only thing except pride separating us,” said Mexico Selectman George Byam. “I don’t see us losing our own identities.”

The impetus that may make such an arrangement a reality this time, unlike past attempts, is the economy.

“We’re known as the Rumford/Mexico area. But this is the catalyst we need. We have no choice because of finances. If we don’t get combined, we won’t be able to provide services,” said Betty Barrett, a SAD 43 board member representing Mexico.

Rumford Selectman Arthur Boivin wanted a one-year arrangement could be made. After that, the two towns will decide what the next steps would be.

If the plan goes ahead, employees from any of the departments in either town would not lose their jobs as a result of combining police, fire, public works and other departments. Instead, if positions need to be eliminated, they would be ended over time through attrition.

Rumford Selectman Chairman Greg Buccina said the potential arrangement could be in the best interest of the community.

“We have not failed at anything we’ve done together,” he said of previous joint efforts by both towns, such as for schools and a regional solid waste program.

The man who would serve as town manager of both towns is John Madigan, manager of Mexico and a previous manager of Rumford in the 1990s.

Madigan has been an advocate for greater sharing of services for many years.

Before anything can happen, though, Rumford Town Manager Jim Doar and Madigan will sit down to learn how the arrangement can be made with Rumford lawyer Tom Carey. Doar leaves his position in June.

Past attempts to have one person manage both towns were stopped early because some have said that Rumford’s charter does not allow the arrangement. However, Madigan believes it’s all a matter of interpretation. That interpretation will be rendered by Carey, and if the charter doesn’t allow sharing the town manager and other department heads, then boards of selectmen from both towns want Carey to find a way that it can be done.

“We’re going to learn a lot about the process,” said Buccina.

Madigan said if the charter doesn’t allow it, then other ways such as amending the charter or bylaws should do it.

Mexico board Chairwoman Barbara Laramee said selectmen from both towns must be positive about sharing a town manager and services “if we truly believe this is the best for our citizens.”

If the plan goes ahead, Madigan’s appointment would go from June 11 through the June 2009 reorganizational meeting in Rumford.

Buccina said an interpretation by Carey could be ready to report at Rumford’s selectmen’s meeting Thursday night. Another joint meeting of the two boards was set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, at Rumford’s Municipal Auditorium. If the plan to share Madigan for one year goes ahead, then further details would be worked out for town manager compensation, reassignment of duties, individual and joint meetings by the two boards, and other details.

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