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Proposal would shift Freeport emergency dispatch to county

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Proposal would shift Freeport emergency dispatch to county

FREEPORT — Town staff are recommending consolidating emergency dispatch services with the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center in Windham, but with a volunteer crew of police and fire personnel to staff the local window during weekday business hours.

Staffing would be limited and paid for on a per-diem basis on weekends and holidays.

At a Tuesday night Town Council workshop, former Finance Director Greg L'Heureux said with a current dispatch budget of $243,000, moving to the county service and retaining window coverage without any full-time staff would save the town $96,000. If police and fire departments volunteer to staff the window, and about $21,000 is used to help staff the window on weekends and holidays, the town could save about $75,000.

Many services could be retained by the volunteer staff, including the reassurance program, general questions, permits, key sign-outs, directions, council and meeting packets, parking tickets, fire and police reports, shellfish hot-line and parking ticket collections. Cumberland County dispatch would begin to answer telephone calls, radio communications, the in-house computer system, towing calls, animal fees and data entry of police and rescue incidents.

The public building would be locked after hours with the staff and county configuration, but there would be a telephone and video connection available outside the front door. County dispatchers would be able to speak with and open the door via remote access for any citizen in need of assistance.

Also, Freeport could have the county maintain the 101 fire alarms in town for $110,000. Abbe Yacoben, the finance director, said the expense would be a one-time start-up cost to get the technology in place. She also said the town could increase fees for annual payments to pay back the $110,000. The increase, Yacoben said, would be 75 percent of what the private sector would pay.

Now the annual fire alarm renewal fee is $35, and it would be increased to $225 for mechanical alarms, and $475 for DET alarm boxes. The initial installation fee would also increase $50, from $450 to $500. Yacoben said nearly $25,000 could be generated.

While members of the public could not comment during the workshop on the proposal to move to county dispatch, members of the county service were able to provide councilors with information and answer questions.

Bob LeFebvre, chairman of the regional board and the fire chief in Gorham, said it has been four years since Gorham switched to county dispatch and he has been completely satisfied with the service provided. The county has 30 staffers, including 25 full time. There is someone present 24 hours a day, every day, and a supervisor is on staff.

"The situations are handled very well, and extremely professionally," LeFebvre said.

He said some of the benefits to a consolidated unit are the staffing and the quick response from supervisors if there is ever a question or a problem. He said even the video camera is working well in his town.

"Mistakes happen," he said. "But the difference now, is when they do, I have an answer in less than 24 hours."

Bill Holmes, director of the county service, said consolidating services is practical and fiscally responsibility.

"Collaboration has to happen more and more for people to be able to pay bills," he said.

Councilors did not make any decisions Monday night, but said they will open the discussion as the fiscal year 2010 budget deliberations continue.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.