Bridgton town manager to talk to United Ambulance about subsidies

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Bridgton taxpayers are subsidizing United Ambulance Service in the amount of $66,000 this fiscal year, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said Tuesday.

Now, due to a recent situation in that community, United Ambulance Service will be servicing parts of the town of Harrison, as well, Berkowitz pointed out.

“My understanding, is that United Ambulance is not being subsidized in Harrison,” said Berkowtiz. He said he wondered if this expansion of service into Harrison by United Ambulance Service “is because the good citizens of Bridgton had already mobilized and positioned them for that” by subsidizing their services here.

The town manager said he would like to explore what the town of Harrison is paying United Ambulance Service and PACE Ambulance of Norway, so he can “gauge the cost of service” of both.

“I’m curious what taxpayers in that (Harrison) community pay,” said Berkowitz.

So, the board of selectmen unanimously authorized the town manager to contact Paul Fillebrown of the local United Ambulance Service “to look into the ambulance service contract.”

Berkowitz stressed that the town of Bridgton has always “had great communications with United Ambulance,” and with Fillebrown, in particular.

The town manager told the selectmen Sept. 14, “I’d like to be up front, rather than sneaky about it, and talk to Paul and ask him, ‘What consideration are you going to give the town of Bridgton?’”

“One of the reasons for that (Bridgton subsidizing United Ambulance),” Selectman Woody Woodward said, “was that there wasn’t a significant number of calls, when United Ambulance first came here.”

“I’m certainly not trying to rhubarb United Ambulance,” said Berkowitz.

“But, we have to watch out for our interests,” Chairman Art Triglione stated.

“We’re very pleased with the work they do,” Woodward said of United Ambulance Service.

“The quality of service is not in question,” said Berkowitz.

Dispatch Services not on Nov. ballot

The selectmen took no action on a draft warrant article Tuesday that would have asked voters, at the polls on Nov. 2 if they want to contract with for dispatching services with the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center beginning no later than January 1, 2011, thereby terminating the current local dispatching services through the Bridgton Police Department.

So, no decision is likely to be made this year, on the fate of dispatching services here.

The non-binding, advisory vote would not have required the selectmen to adhere to the voting outcome.

However, legally, Tuesday’s meeting was the last time the board members could consider placing such a warrant article on the November ballot, because of the 45-day statutory requirement for the mailing out of absentee ballots.

Selectman Doug Taft said there is no way the selectmen can consider asking the voters what they prefer for dispatching services, if the board members have not completed their own evaluation process‚ namely by interviewing officials from Cumberland County and the local dispatch center.

“We have to talk to both of them,” said Selectman Earl Cash.

Selectman Taft, who is employed by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, asked if there is any reason why Bridgton can’t contact the Oxford County Regional Communications Center to obtain a quote for the cost of dispatching services from that agency.

“Both agencies are PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points),” Taft said. “I don’t think it would hurt us to bring all the facts before townspeople.”

Town Manager Berkowitz responded to Taft’s suggestion, stating, “I would ask, from an operations standpoint, how efficient that would be…how do different county PSAPs react and how would that affect our people?”

“I think that would be a good conversation to entertain, the way the state is closing PSAPs, we may be doing business with Skowhegan,” Taft replied. “I’m not promoting either agency,” he added.

Taft said he believes there are still too many questions left unanswered, to make any kind of decision on dispatching services, at this time.

“I think this is more reason for us to table this,” said Taft. “We need to find out the price to keep it (dispatching) locally. There are some people who want to keep it locally, with certain (equipment) upgrades, and I think people should have all of that information.”

Selectman Woodward said that, with only the limited information available now, “People would be able to vote on this based upon passion, but they wouldn’t be able to vote on the facts.”

The recently published Review of the Bridgton Police Department Project Summary and Findings and Recommendations prepared by Public Safety Strategies Group found that “Bridgton Dispatch does not provide the most efficient and effective option for the town.” It goes on to say “dispatch equipment requires updating which would be costly to the town.”

According to the PSSG report, “In Fiscal Year 2010 Bridgton budgeted $231,528 for public safety dispatch, this figure increased from $165,311.75 in 2005. On average, the dispatch budget has increased 9.5% annually. Contracting public safety dispatch services to the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center (CCRCC) would result in a savings to the town. The rate per capita scale used by the CCRCC would result in a yearly cost of approximately $92,000 plus current built-in yearly increases of three percent. The estimated savings to switch from town dispatch to CCRCC is approximately $140,000.”

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