Somerset County Regional Communication Center dispatchers monitor radio traffic in Skowhegan in March 2019. The agency, which answers 911 calls for 16 Kennebec County communities, has been directed by Somerset County commissioners to stop serving those municipalities at the end of the fiscal year, June 30. Cutting the Kennebec County towns would reduce the call volume received by the agency, which has been struggling to find staff, by more than 50%. Morning Sentinel file

AUGUSTA — Kennebec County officials are considering options after Somerset County announced it will stop answering 911 calls for Kennebec County communities after June.

The move will affect the 16 communities across northern and western Kennebec County the public safety answering point in Somerset County has been serving, leaving the municipalities to find another provider to fill that void.

Among the options is creating a countywide dispatch center in Kennebec County that could have its own public safety answering point, or PSAP, to provide reliable service to county residents.

Art True, director of Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

On Tuesday, Art True, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, gave an update to Kennebec County commissioners about the steps he’s taken in the wake of the Somerset County announcement.

True said of the 50 different public safety services in Kennebec County that use emergency communications, more than half of them have asked for a county dispatch center.

He said he’s run some preliminary estimates based on the costs of running emergency communications. While some communities would save money, others would have to pay more.


“We don’t want to be back here again in three years,” True said. “We want a system that has a pay structure, transparency and responsiveness to county residents.”

Whenever someone dials 911, the call is routed to a public safety answering point, which then sends the call to the appropriate dispatch center. The dispatchers then contact the appropriate agency — police, fire, ambulance — to send help.

Now, the public safety answering point at the Somerset County communications center handles 911 calls for all of Somerset County as well as the 16 Kennebec County communities by contract.

Michael Smith, director of the Somerset County Emergency Management Agency as well as its communications center and public safety answering point, said Tuesday that 50.3% of the 42,463 911 calls that Somerset County handled in 2022 were from Kennebec County.

Waterville is at the top of the list, with 7,515 calls, and Wayne was at the bottom with 24 calls.

Following a Jan. 18 executive session regarding contracts, the Somerset County commissioners voted 4-0 to direct the county’s communications director to not renew the communications contracts with Kennebec County towns after June. The only exception is Benton, which is covered by Fairfield, a Somerset County town.


Smith sent out letters to the affected communities the next day, citing “staffing issues that PSAPs across the state are facing,” among other factors, as the driving reasons for the commissioners’ decision.

In part the letter reads: “We have enjoyed the relationship between your Town and our Agency for many years, but feel that this move is in the best interest of the citizens, first responders, and most importantly, the employees, of Somerset County Communications Center.”

True said Tuesday that other options are being considered. He had met with public safety officials in Waterville earlier in the day who are interested in finding a solution and developing a proposal.

He said he will bring an update to the commissioners at their March 7 meeting on what progress has been made on a plan for the group to consider, if they opt to pursue that.

If the issue is not resolved by the end of June, True said the state’s Regional Communication Center in Augusta is obligated by state law to take on that call load, but he’s not sure it has the staff to handle the volume.

This is not the first time emergency communications has been an issue for Kennebec County communities in recent years.

In the second half of 2018, the state’s Regional Communication Center in Augusta notified the Kennebec County communities it covered that it would no longer offer services for the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Gardiner because of a software change. At the same time, services to 21 other Kennebec County towns and Unity Township were also affected.

But only months later in February 2019, an allegation was raised that the Augusta RCC had been underfunded for several years at that point, which affected its ability to provide services. To be able to continue to be served, the 22 communities would have to nearly double what they were paying.

The communities reached an agreement, with the city of Gardiner’s offer to subsidize the cost in order to continue to receive services.

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