AUGUSTA — State officials discussed the possibility of privatizing Maine’s landfills and eliminating the positions of five federally funded workers in charge of distributing community service grants during a preliminary meeting Tuesday to reorganize the State Planning Office.

The State Planning Office was created in 1968 to provide the governor and the Legislature with public policy research and analysis and to aid with long-term planning.

Its responsibilities include overseeing the Maine Commission for Community Service, waste management and recycling, code enforcement training, land-use planning and economic forecasting.

In recent years the office has been a target of Republican criticism, with detractors claiming its work is redundant or unnecessary. Now, under Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the office is facing an overhaul.

A dozen state officials, led by Darryl Brown, director of the State Planning Office, and Dave Emery, a former congressman serving in the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, are expected to delegate and eliminate some, if not most, of the office’s duties.

“The governor believes that this process at the end of the day should result in a smaller state government,” said Jonathan Nass, a senior policy adviser to LePage. “If we are scrutinizing existing programs as thoroughly as we should be, then the end result should be some efficiencies.”

John Morris, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, is a member of the committee studying the reorganization of the State Planning Office. On Tuesday he questioned state ownership of landfills, wondering if it was not something better left to private industry.

Pete Didisheim, advocacy director from the Natural Resources Council of Maine who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said if the state sold the landfills it owns, it would not be able to stop out-of-state waste from coming in.

“The reason the state owns these landfills and has phased out private ownership is so that we have control over the importation of garbage, and I can assure you that there are many jurisdictions to our south that would love to import huge volumes of garbage to Maine,” he said.

After the meeting, Morris reaffirmed his support for waste management privatization.

“I still think that’s easily accomplished. If you sell it, you have a contract that says you can’t import radioactive material,” he said. “Just like if you buy a home in a subdivision, they have rules like you can’t have flags flying from your chimney or whatever. (Privatization) is certainly an option, and with privatization comes a set of rules that you can develop.”

But according to a State Planning Office report issued in November, states are banned from dictating what can be brought into landfills unless they own them.

“The policy question for the governor and Legislature is whether owning a landfill is an appropriate state function versus does Maine want to be able to limit out-of-state waste from consuming landfill space that serves Maine residents and businesses,” the report said.

Morris also questioned why the state needed five federally funded employees to distribute federal community service grant money.

“I would like to see why the state is involved in this and why they’re not going directly to the federal government and why we have this head count of five people if perhaps we don’t need them,” he said.

A State Planning Office staff member said it was likely a matter of delegating authority to the state, which would be more adept at awarding and distributing the money locally.

The committee is scheduled to meet again in about one month.

Rebekah Metzler — 620-7016

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