Lewiston and Auburn councilors ended the two-hour joint meeting by pledging their support for the Lewiston-Auburn 911 service and promising to work together to settle the issue.

“We don’t need to blow the system up. I like what we have,” Lewiston Councilor Tim Lajoie said. “When people call 911, they want to talk to someone good and we have that now. We don’t need to change it. We just need to fix our communication problem and make sure we have a fair and equitable funding formula.”

But there was some tension getting to that point as Auburn councilors and Mayor Jonathan LaBonte pushed their Lewiston peers to decide how to handle the 911 agency’s fund balances.

“We’ve come here tonight and we’re going to walk away with nothing and I think that’s ridiculous,” Councilor Leroy Walker said. “The mayor’s made a motion and if you don’t like the motion, then vote it down and let us go home knowing how you feel. Let’s not play tiddlywinks here.”

But Lewiston councilors said they wanted to make the right decision, not a quick one.

“Clearly, this is an agreement we need to make work, so I resent the implication that I don’t want to make a decision,” Lajoie said. “I’m not going to make it, Mr. Walker, without all the information. I can’t make it any plainer than that.”

Auburn’s council is considering a plan to cut its share of the funding to L-A 911 from $1.07 million to $855,298. The original agreement, first negotiated back in 1995, splits costs for the service in half between Lewiston and Auburn.

LaBonte and Auburn councilors are arguing for splitting costs based upon use — specifically, the number of phone calls the center takes from each city.

L-A 911 Director Phyllis Gamache said about 37 percent of center’s dispatch traffic comes from Auburn, about 63 percent from Lewiston. That includes direct calls to 911 as well as radio traffic from police and firefighters and other calls.

But the councils didn’t tackle that issue Tuesday. Instead, the group spent most of its time Tuesday night discussing a $419,000 fund balance and paying for a $183,000 hardware upgrade.

Auburn Councilor Jim Pross questioned whether L-A 911 even had the authority to keep a fund balance.

“To me, it sounds like you look at this fund to work around the ordinary budgetary process that is built into our entire interagency agreement,” Pross said. “For me, that’s an issue. That money should be sitting there in case you don’t get what you requested.”

LaBonte suggested splitting the fund balance to reduce taxes in both cities, with staff saying much of the balance was already earmarked for other projects. He also suggested using future fund balances to pay for capital projects.

But Lewiston’s councilors said they needed more time and more information. Lewiston Councilor Kristen Cloutier said she wanted to vote on three separate matters: determining how much of the current fund balance they would use, what should happen with next year’s fund balance and an overall fund balance policy.

Lewiston Councilor Joline Beam agreed, and said she needed time.

“I’m not going to vote on something that’s been thrown at me tonight,” Beam said. “I think the fair and responsible thing for me as a councilor is to have the figures in front of me, have it explained to me and then we can call for a vote.”

They directed Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett, Auburn City Manager Howard Kroll and their finance staff to talk about both budget issues: the fund balance and the funding formula.

Barrett said they’d try to schedule a meeting later this week and report back to the councilors at their next meetings.

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