CHINA — A long-running dispute between the state and the town over fees for dispatching police and sheriff’s officers could leave the town without that service or embroiled in a legal battle.

John Morris, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, recently told the town government by letter that unless it pays $51,565 by June 1, the state will no longer dispatch those law enforcement officers.

Town officials, however, say they won’t allow dispatch services to be lost.

“We don’t even envision that,” said China Town Manager Dan L’Heureux, saying the letter gives the town time to respond before the deadline.

The state also is threatening to bring a lawsuit against the town for non-payment.

“I want to work with China and find a solution and I regret having to take this action, but I have bills to pay also,” Morris said.

The amount is overdue, Morris said in the letter received by the town on Thursday.

“The department provides law enforcement dispatch services for 21 communities within Kennebec County, and yours is the only one that has not been providing full payment for services rendered,” he wrote.

The town has been paying some money toward the services since 2009, but maintains it should be charged less because the service duplicates some of what it contracts for from other entities.

The town pays Somerset County about $8,600 to answer emergency calls that come from land lines, and it pays Waterville about $10,750 for dispatching the China Fire Department and rescue services, according to L’Heureux. Emergency calls made from cell phones in China go directly to the state’s regional communications center in Augusta, which either dispatches law enforcement officers or transfers the call to Waterville for other services.

L’Heureux also said the town has kept money in escrow should it end up having to pay the amount the state says is due.

Alton Stevens, the town’s attorney, said China selectmen “feel essentially that the fees that state is trying to impose on them are duplicative of some of the services they already have a contract for.”

He said there are complicated legal issues behind that posture as well.

“The town’s legal argument is that it does have a public safety answering point contract with another entity; therefore, the state has no authority to charge it for the services that the state has been providing,” Stevens said. “The town still doesn’t want to get something for nothing and calls automatically go to the state. They want to pay a reasonable amount for it, and they think they’re being overcharged.”

Morris said China is being charged the same rate as the other 20 communities in Kennebec that get the services.

“They choose to only pay us sporadically, and they always say to me they haven’t signed a contract, but they’ve been accepting our services since 2009,” Morris said.

Morris said he’s attempted to get the money from China since he became commissioner a little over a year ago, and he met recently with L’Heureux and one of the selectmen, hoping to resolve the dispute. Morris said he asked for a partial payment and a payment arrangement for the remainder.

“They’ve chosen not to do that,” he said.

He said if the bill remains unpaid, the state will file a lawsuit against the town.

L’Heureux said the town recently sought an estimate of the costs for having the state provide all answering and dispatch services.

“Our intent is not adversarial,” he said.

 

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]


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