The city of Gardiner is holding a meeting Wednesday night with municipal leaders from surrounding communities to discuss ways towns and cities can share or consolidate services.
The goal is to find opportunities to save money through more cooperation, Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said.
The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner on Pray Street. Gardiner City Council will hold a regular meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., following the regional meeting.
In the first half of the meeting, speakers will present examples of consolidation in other regions of the state, services sharing that’s already going on in the area and what kind of sharing opportunities might be available.
Municipal leaders in the second half will get a chance to talk in a round table-type format about the possibilities of sharing and consolidation in the region, Morelli said.
“Every year when I’m giving a budget presentation or preparing the budget,” Morelli said, “it always seems like the discussion comes up, âGee, isn’t there more we can do to share services or regionalize?'” to avoid cutting services or raising taxes.
Although some communities already share some services, Morelli said more can be difficult because some communities will lose some local control or others may not have as much savings.
“It gets a little political and complicated,” he said.
Cities and towns in the state could be facing significant drops in state funding if the Legislature fails to find $40 million in savings to prevent cuts to municipal revenue sharing. The state budget passed last year included some cuts to municipal revenue sharing, but lawmakers can prevent the additional municipal losses if they find the necessary savings or new revenue. That hasn’t happened yet.
Even without cuts to revenue sharing, Gardiner expects a projected shortfall of more than $500,000 for the fiscal year that begins in July. That could grow by another $265,000 with cuts to revenue sharing, Morelli said.
Representatives from most communities in what until recently was Senate District 21, which included Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, West Gardiner and Winthrop, as well as from Augusta and Richmond, are expected to attend on Wednesday, Morelli said.
Some communities in the region already share resources. Hallowell and Farmingdale have long shared a school system as Hall-Dale, and the communities have discussed the possibility of constructing a joint fire station.
Michael Starn, city manager for Hallowell, said he and a couple of city councilors plan to attend the Wednesday meeting in Gardiner. He said it makes sense for communities like Augusta, Hallowell, Farmingdale and Gardiner to find ways to share resources because they’re already connected by U.S. Route 201.
“I think all four communities want to work with each other,” Starn said. “We just have to find the opportunities.”
Gardiner’s wastewater plant also serves Farmingdale and Randolph, its library is open to residents from several area towns and the city’s ambulance service provides emergency and rescue service to Gardiner, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.
The city tried attracting Richmond, which left the ambulance service for a private company in 2008, to come back into the fold last year, but the town decided to stay with North East Mobile Health Services.
Gardiner had planned to use the additional revenue from serving Richmond to lower the costs for all the other towns in the partnership.
“We’re already doing stuff together,” Morelli said. “We just need to figure out ways we can do more because the budget pictures we’re all looking at, without good sized increases, we’re going to be losing services.”
Following the regionalization summit, Gardiner City Council will hold a regular meeting with an agenda that includes a discussion of next year’s budget and a proposal to merge public safety administration positions.
Morelli said the budget presentation will be a chance for councilors to give guidance about what services, if any, could looked at for cuts.
The public safety proposal would create a public safety director by combining the police chief, fire chief and emergency management director. Police Chief James Toman would assume the role of public safety director after Fire Chief Minkoswky departs at the end of March if councilors approve the change, Morelli said. The city would use savings from the fire chief’s salary to increase the salary of the police chief by $15,000 when he becomes the director of public safety.
Currently, the fire chief also serves as the emergency management director. The public safety director would handle budgets, complaints and higher level administrative functions, according to the proposal.
The city would also create a new position of deputy fire chief/code enforcement officer. Gardiner’s previous code enforcement officer, David Cichowski, resigned in November.
The changes would save the city more than $12,000 from its general fund and almost $42,000 from the ambulance fund, according to the proposal. The ambulance savings would be used to eliminate uncollectables fees — costs towns are on the hook for it people served within their borders don’t pay their ambulance bills.
Morelli said not making the towns pay those fees, which can vary year to year, is a key to preventing towns from leaving the service for private companies.