GARDINER — While Gardiner city councilors voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of the city’s public safety agencies remaining with the state’s regional communications center for dispatching, they acknowledged the matter is not settled.

“This is a tricky issue with a long road ahead,” Mayor Patricia Hart said just before councilors voted.

They were considering whether to support a proposed by City Manager Christine Landes to offer to pay the Central Maine Regional Communication Center $185,000 a year for the next three years to handle dispatching services for the city — and to support a legislative bill to recreate a governing board to oversee emergency communications.

“The really disappointing thing I find in this conversation is the entire lack of leadership from the state of Maine on regionalization,” District 1 Councilor Terry Berry said. “This is to me a classic, simple, easy fix statewide for the state of Maine to take a front role and build regional dispatch centers that are funded by the state and used by their citizens. Everyone is getting in a silo.”

For months, officials in Gardiner and other communities across Kennebec County — along with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office — have been trying to find a workable option for emergency dispatching services after they were informed that state officials opted to terminate their contracts for dispatching at the regional communications center as of July 1.

Like a number of other municipalities in Maine, including Augusta and Waterville, Gardiner once had its own dispatch center, but it closed it 14 years ago in a cost-cutting and consolidation move. Gardiner police Chief James Toman said the city has contracted with the RCC to dispatch for its full-time Police Department, as well as for the Fire Department and ambulance service.

He said the move to cancel the contracts came only after plan by the state to pay for an interface between Spillman, the system the state dispatch centers are moving to, and IMC, a system that both the Gardiner Police Department and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office uses, didn’t work out.

“As the state was trying to accomplish this,” Toman said to city councilors, “IMC said it couldn’t do it for almost two years.”

The cancellation of the contracts was a business decision on the state’s part, he said, and it prompted the sheriff’s office and 22 municipalities in the county to seek other options.

Gardiner has been paying the state $67,000 to $75,000 annually in recent years for dispatching services. In searching for a new dispatch center, Gardiner officials were confronted with two limitations. Some centers could not accommodate the volume of calls generated in the city; and when they could, the costs would be significantly higher.

Because Gardiner has a full-time police force as well a professional fire crew and an ambulance service that encompasses eight municipalities, it generates a larger number of calls than towns with only a volunteer fire department.

At the end of last year, Toman said, Cliff Wells, director of emergency communication for the state Department of Public Safety, advanced a proposal that would keep both the sheriff’s department and the 22 municipalities using IMC at the regional communication center at a cost of $638,000, with which the RCC would dedicate staff members to continue to use IMC.

While Gardiner had been searching for a solution last fall, Toman said, the sheriff’s office and the 21 other communities were working on shifting dispatch services to the Augusta Police Department’s dispatch center.

Under Wells’ new proposal, which would cost about $265,000 more than the cost for the other 21 communities and the sheriff’s office to contract with Augusta, Gardiner has offered $185,000 a year for three years — more than the $111,000 outlined — as  an incentive to convince the other communities and sheriff’s office to remain with the RCC.

At a meeting last week hosted by the Kennebec County commissioners on the proposal, a consensus to stay with the RCC appeared to be emerging.

Landes said Wednesday that while officials in the other towns might not have been happy with  proposed higher costs, several felt strongly that sticking together and asking for an emergency communications board oversee the issue is important.

In her memo to city councilors, Landes noted that Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, and Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, have agreed to support a bill to recreate an emergency communications governing board

“We do have a meeting next week with the new commissioner of public safety (Michael Sauschuck), just to open up the lines of communication and talk about how we were cast aside a little bit and encourage him to be more involved in solving this for the next three years,” she said.

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

 

 

 

 

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