RUMFORD — Selectmen from Rumford and Mexico met Thursday evening to discuss the hurdles and difficulties the towns may face in their efforts to consolidate services.

Rumford board Chairman Greg Buccina said the purpose of the joint meeting, held at the Rumford Falls Auditorium, was to look at the challenges involved and “how we can continue to move forward.”

The consolidation movement involves six subcommittees for the departments in each town: Police; Fire and Emergency Management; Parks and Recreation; Libraries; Public Works; and Budget, Finance and Town Hall Operations. Each subcommittee has two selectmen, a department head, two residents and a Budget Committee member from each town.

Selectman Jeff Sterling said he felt discouraged after the July 10 meeting between selectmen and the consolidation subcommittees.

“I was feeling pretty down on this whole process after that kick-off meeting,” he said. “There was an incredible amount of negativity coming from the people in the audience, and I was dismayed to see a lot of the negativity was coming from people who are currently serving on the subcommittees. I had real skepticism moving forward. I was thinking, ‘Are these people here to talk about consolidation, or are they here to dig their heels in and save their own turf?’”

Sterling later said that when consolidation talks began in 2013, he was under the impression that the selectmen were going to be left out of the process.

“We might have a bias, or an agenda,” Sterling said. “At first, I didn’t think we were going to participate. I thought we’d leave it up to the consultants to gather the data to put before the people, and that they’d come up with a draft plan as to what they could see the consolidation of services being, without our involvement.”

Buccina said, “I know that’s your interpretation of it, Jeff, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I think it’s good for us to be involved in the process.”

Mexico Selectman Byron Ouellette said the “negative things brought up by the audience are things we need to be addressing right now. If we don’t address these negative things right now, when we put the proposal before the people, they’re not going to want to vote it through. People want to understand what’s going on, and what our intentions are.”

Buccina asked the other selectmen their opinions on the conference calls that have been taking place between the subcommittees and the employees at Municipal Resources, the firm that provided the towns with a proposal for a comprehensive study on consolidating services.

“I’m wondering if anybody liked them or disliked them,” Buccina said. “As for me, I found them to be pretty good, but a little bit redundant. There was a lot of stuff in those calls that we already knew. There were some good questions asked, but it felt like we had already gone over this information before.”

Mexico Selectman Reggie Arsenault said he thought the conference calls were a good idea, but “from here on out, we shouldn’t do them.”

“I feel that when we meet to discuss these things, we should be meeting face-to-face,” he said. “When you’re on the phone, it makes it hard to get a word in, because everyone’s sort of talking over each other and wants to get a word in.”

Rumford Selectman Brad Adley said he had a good experience with the conference call between the Fire and Emergency Management subcommittee and Municipal Resources.

“Sure, I prefer face-to-face meetings, but it went pretty well,” Adley said.

He said his subcommittee was “light-years ahead” of where other departments were, in terms of preparing for consolidating services.

“That’s no offense to any of the other departments, but (Mexico fire Chief) Gary Wentzell and (Rumford fire Chief) Bob Chase have been working on something like this before consolidation talks even began,” Adley said. “Right now, we have a tentative goal to have something ready for the people to look at by the next budget season.”

Town Manager John Madigan asked Chase if the Fire and Emergency Management subcommittee had scheduled its next meeting.

“I think that Municipal Resources is going to take a couple of weeks and look at the data they’ve collected,” Chase said. “After that, we’ll meet again to go over the new information.”

The two boards also discussed the possibility of adjusting the days they hold their selectmen meetings.

Madigan, who serves as town manager for Rumford and Mexico, said the hardest part about pulling double duty as town manager is “finding time for a vacation.”

“The way each town holds their selectmen’s meeting, it’s impossible to find a week where there’s not a meeting,” he said. “That might be something you guys can look at during a future meeting.”

The Rumford board meets the first and third Thursdays of each month; the Mexico board meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.

Following the meeting, Buccina said both boards would attempt to meet “in two months” to look at any new data that Municipal Resources finds.

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