Bridgton voters to decide on dispatch choices

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Voters in Bridgton will have to choose between two opposing recommendations for dispatching services,

at the annual town meeting in mid-June.

Bridgton’s Board of Selectmen is recommending the town opt to go with the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center in Windham, for its dispatching services.

Chief of Police Kevin Schofield, on the other hand, is urging townspeople to retain its long-serving municipal dispatch center.

Tuesday night, the board unanimously approved a referendum question to be voted on at the polls June 14 that asks voters to authorize the selectmen “to enter into a contract with the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center (CCRCC) for the provision of dispatching services for the Town and to complete all other necessary actions relaated thereto. The Board of Selectmen recommends a yes vote.”

Last year a study, paid for by the town and executed by Public Safety Strategies Group out of Massachusetts, recommended the Town of Bridgton contract with the CCRCC and build an administrative position into its municipal budget. Chief Schofield pointed out that he is fully aware of the PSSG recommendation to the town.

When asked by Selectman Paul Hoyt at Monday night’s budget workshop what he would recommend for dispatching services, Chief Schofield stated, “My preference would be to retain (Bridgton) Dispatch. The reason is, in my experience with Dispatch in 25 years of law enforcement, I have always worked with a police department that had (its own) dispatch. Dispatch, in a municipal police department, does much more than a (regional) communications center. The staff, day-to-day, handles walk-ups — people who want to report a crime, obtain burn permits and concealed weapons permits, and get copies of police and insurance reports. How are we going to grapple with that, going forward, particularly where we don’t have an administrative assistant now?”

“You may get one,” Selectman Earl Cash told the police chief. In fact, $44,000 is the amount projected for an administrative assistant, should the town switch over its dispatching to the CCRCC.

The new police chief also spoke of “institutional knowledge” when it comes to dispatch, saying, “It’s hard to correlate what’s the value of that, other than that.”

When asked by resident Bill Vincent at the April 12 selectmen’s meeting about his preference for dispatching services for Bridgton, Chief Schofield replied, “My preference would be to retain Dispatch here in Bridgton, for a couple of reasons  — the most significant being the extra duties the Dispatch staff performs for us. Municipal dispatching is different than regional dispatching. You’re losing a lot of institutional knowledge and administrative duties — that will be a significant void we’d have to fill, if we lose Dispatch. It works — we’re not reinventing the wheel. If we close shop and go to County — it will work. It’s the other question — as a community, and what that means to our town.”

When asked by Selectman Hoyt how the Bridgton Police Department would handle a switch over to Cumberland County, Chief Schofield replied, “Can we make it work? We most certainly can.”

Schofield, who was sworn in as police chief here on March 31, said that just before he left the employ of the Brunswick Police Department he was involved with the Town of Brunswick taking over and performing dispatch services for the Town of Freeport.

Referring to Cumberland County Regional Communications Center Director Bill Holmes and his staff, who would be handling dispatching services, if voters here approve the change, Chief Schofield said, “I’m confident Bill Holmes will be doing a good job in that capacity.”

Addressing Selectman Hoyt, who asked him to state his preference, Chief Schofield stated, “To answer your question directly — I’d say retain Dispatch.”

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz is also recommending the town contract with the CCRC for its dispatching services, saying that if voters approve the change to County, the town’s projected property tax rate of $12.87 (up from $12.20) would be automatically reduced by 13 cents.

Should Bridgton voters decide to go with the CCRCC, Berkowitz said there would be a first year savings of $128,000, a savings of $95,000 in 2013, and approximately $125,000 in savings in 2014.

Keeping control local?

There is also the matter of a statewide initiative to reduce the number of PSAPs, or Public Safety Answering Points, in Maine to just 16.

Chief Schofield said that the City of Waterville had a “sour” experience with the move to reduce PSAPs, when its dispatch center closed down and the city contracted with a centralized dispatch center. The police chief said Waterville was quoted a price for the first year of its contract but that cost then “tripled” the following year.

“Local communities (that contracted with a regionalized dispatching service) lost control of (dispatching) expenses,” said Chief of Police Schofield.

Selectman Doug Taft asked Schofield, “Say we did invest money (to upgrade Bridgton Dispatch) and keep local control, do you see us being told we need to shut down and go with the PSAP?”

Schofield said the towns of Yarmouth, Cumberland and Freeport “went through this exercise for several years” with those three communities eventually closing their local PSAPs.

Selectman Woody Woodward asked the police chief which is more important — emergency public safety dispatch or administrative (duties) and public contact?

“That’s a tough one to answer,” Chief Schofield replied. “Now you’re walking down the road of parochialism. People in this community know the officers and they care. I’m not sure if I can really give you an answer about what’s more important. My point being, the (dispatching) system has worked here for a long time, as is, and I don’t know as I’m ready to say that, by going to County, we’d have more of a complete package on the Dispatch end.”

Selectmen Chairman Arthur Triglione Sr. said, “Let’s not forget the cost savings for the town (by switching over to the CCRCC) is significant.”

“We’re here to provide a good, basic (dispatching) service, but we can’t afford to be all things to all people,” Triglione stated. “We’re trying to keep costs down. We have to be keeping things at a reasonable level.”

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