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Freeport weighs cost of dispatch merger with Brunswick

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Freeport weighs cost of dispatch merger with Brunswick

FREEPORT — A Town Council workshop Monday night gave Brunswick police and communications officers a chance to show residents what a merger of dispatch services would look like for the two towns.

A council meeting Tuesday night gave the nearly 50 residents in attendance an opportunity to voice their opinions.

While they continue to gather information on consolidated dispatch services, councilors have not decided to merge with either Brunswick or the Cumberland County Regional Dispatch Center in Windham.

Last week, Town Manager Dale Olmstead said councilors must decide to either raise taxes, change the way services are delivered, or both.

During the Feb. 22 workshop, Chairman Bill Muldoon said a merger with Brunswick would produce one major alteration – the town's phone answering system would be moved to Brunswick. Rescue, police and fire personnel would remain the same, he said.

In addition, consolidating with Brunswick would not increase emergency call times since calls have been routed there for the past three years, he said. The call centers also have reverse 911 and GPS technology to locate the origin of the call.

Commander Kevin Schofield of the Brunswick Police Department said Brunswick has provided free E-911 service to Freeport since 2006, and all E-911 calls are now routed through the Brunswick Public Safety Answering Points.

"We have an excellent working relationship with the town of Freeport," he said. "It has been a nice marriage."

Scholfield said the close proximity of the two communities, the use of the same records management system and the strength of a larger trained staff in one location are a few of the benefits of consolidation.

Brunswick would continue to serve as the PSAP for both towns, and would dispatch all police, fire and rescue calls for Freeport and Brunswick. Brunswick would also answer the Freeport police and fire non-emergency lines after regular business hours.

Schofield said Freeport's Reassurance Program, which checks on the well-being of senior citizens, would continue.

He said there are currently nine dispatch employees in Brunswick. With consolidation, one more communications officer could be added, Schofield said, and one of Freeport's four full-time dispatchers will have priority for the position.

Freeport Finance Director Abigail Yacoben said retaining Freeport dispatch would cost $252,000 in fiscal year 2011. Depending on the level of service provided, a merger with Brunswick would cost $215,000 to $280,000 in capitol costs, and a merger with Cumberland County would cost $123,000 to $232,000.

But the merger with Brunswick would also save the most in ongoing annual operating costs – between $94,000 and $109,000.

"We've heard residents and they want window service throughout the week and on weekends and holidays," Yacoben said Tuesday afternoon. "It will cost about $21,000 to staff, but we can retain services that are important to residents."

At the public hearing on Feb. 23, many residents told councilors they wouldn't mind paying to keep dispatch in town. But Councilor Charlotte Bishop said the municipal budget is only one-third of the total budget.

"Don't forget about the school side," she said. "While you may want to pay $40 more to keep dispatch, you could face a 7 percent increase on the school side alone."

Pownal resident Linda McMahon said Pownal pays for dispatch services from Freeport and she, too, wants to retain the service.

"Be careful of consolidation," she said referencing the Regional School Unit 5 merger. "We know what happens. Our property taxes went up 26 percent and we we have no control of what is spent in our schools."

Freeport Police Department Lt. Susan Nourse said the decision is difficult because it is one that triggers emotions.

"This is a heartfelt decision that involves the human element," she said. "People feel there will be a loss of community if this service is removed."

There will be more discussion on the budget and dispatch at the next council meeting on Tuesday, March 9.

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