AUBURN — Putting county emergency dispatch and Lewiston-Auburn 911 under one roof is an option councilors learned Monday night, but it’s not the only option.

Auburn police Chief Phil Crowell said a committee of county police and fire chiefs will take at least another month before they wrap up their report on whether combining dispatch services is a good idea. The committee is looking at three options: upgrading the existing county
center in the Androscoggin County building; moving the county dispatch
service to Lisbon and letting Lisbon Police assume dispatch duties; or
having the county take over operation at Lewiston-Auburn 911.

Crowell and Lewiston Fire Chief Paul LeClair gave Auburn councilors an
update on the Androscoggin  Regional Communication Center Committee at
Monday’s workshop meeting.

“We’ve done most of the work and I think we’re pretty close to having our answers,” Crowell said. “We’re trying to provide the services we need in a way that makes sense for the taxpayers. The challenge all along has been figuring out how to get there.”

Crowell said he expects the committee’s final
report will be finished and presented to Androscoggin County commissioners
near the end of February.

Androscoggin County, which dispatches emergency calls for most small towns, is due for an equipment upgrade, estimated to cost between $200,000 and $300,000. Currently, the county dispatch costs about $600,000 to operate annually — about $320,000 of that is paid by Lewiston and Auburn.

Both Lewiston-Auburn and the town of Lisbon operate their own dispatch centers, as well.

Simply replacing the county’s equipment would cost about $290,000, Crowell said. Consolidating services with Lisbon would cost more than $300,000, Crowell said. That would involve expanding computer servers at the Lisbon building.

The third option would be to let the county move its dispatch operation into open space at the Lewiston-Auburn 911 center, located under the Auburn Fire Station on Minot Avenue. That would cost about $130,000 in capital and computer upgrades.

The county would likely take over the Lewiston-Auburn 911 functions entirely if it moved to the center, basically dissolving the group.

“The question then would be dividing up costs fairly,” Crowell said. Lewiston-Auburn 911 spends about $1.9 million on dispatch, the county spends about $620,000. That question doomed a previous dispatch consolidation process. Other towns in Androscoggin County backed out of the negotiations fearing they’d have to pay for Lewiston-Auburn’s service.

Crowell said no matter what option the committee recommends, they suggest not changing the funding arrangement  — with the county paying $620,00 per year, Lewiston-Auburn paying $1.9 million and Lisbon continuing to pay for its service.

Lewiston’s LeClair said that would give the dispatch services to come up with a fair plan to distribute costs evenly.

“The problem with previous efforts is it tried to deal with costs right up front,” LeClair said. “This time, we’ve had emergency services professionals looking at the operations model and governance. Then, we have time to figure out cost sharing over the next five years.”

Crowell and LeClair are scheduled to meet with Lewiston’s councilors Tuesday night and the Androscoggin County commissioners on Jan. 27.

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