December 3, 2013

Winthrop to raise dispatch fees

Town council agrees to 25 percent increase for the nine communities it serves.

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINTHROP — Towns that contract with the town of Winthrop for their emergency dispatching services will be paying far larger fees.

Town councilors on Monday approved a plan to implement a 25 percent fee increase for the nine towns that use the Winthrop communications center to dispatch their firefighters, ambulance crews and police. The council authorized Chief Joseph Young, of the Winthrop police, to implement the increase over the next four years at his discretion.

The increase passed by a 6–1 vote, with only Councilor Priscilla Jenkins opposed.

“There are cheaper alternatives out there, but the service is crap,” said Councilor Lawrence Fitzgerald, who first broached the idea of the fee increase. “People are willing to pay for quality service.”

The communications center, operated by the town’s Police Department and based at its station on Town Hall Lane, provides dispatching services for Winthrop and nine other towns — Fayette, Manchester, Monmouth, Mount Vernon, Readfield, Vienna and Wayne in Kennebec County; and Leeds and Wales in Androscoggin County. For all but two of those towns, the center provides just fire or rescue dispatching services and sometimes both.

However, the center also dispatches police for Winthrop and Monmouth, the only two towns in the group with municipal departments. Winthrop and Monmouth are also the only towns that have their own rescue services.

Fitzgerald argued that Winthrop is paying a disproportionate amount for dispatching, judging by its population. About one-third of all the residents covered by the dispatch center live in Winthrop, yet the town pays $127,000 for dispatching services each year, compared to $71,000 for all the other towns combined.

“We’re less than half the population, and we’re paying 64 percent of the funding,” Fitzgerald said.

Raising the fees 25 percent for the nine neighboring towns will cut Winthrop’s cost to $109,000, based on the current budget.

Winthrop’s contract requires it to give each of the other towns a six-month notice of any fee increase, so the council had to vote now if it hoped to include an increase in the next budget cycle.

Winthrop increased its fee 4 percent this year. Fitzgerald said fire chiefs from surrounding communities have said they were open to another increase, but that offers no assurance about how they will react to the 25 percent jump.

“When they say they’re willing to pay more, I don’t know what that means,” he said.

For most communities, the large percentage increase represents a small dollar figure. In Fayette, for example, the fee will jump from $1,900 to $2,375 per year. Leeds will go from $3,800 to $4,750, and Vienna, from $946 to $1,182.

“It’s a large percentage, but it’s a small amount of money,” Councilor Sarah Fuller said.

That is not the case in Monmouth, which now pays $48,500 for dispatching services. Monmouth’s contract fee will increase $12,000, to more than $60,000 per year.

“It’s not good news for us, but they do a very nice job,” Town Manager Curtis Lunt said Tuesday. “If it’s spread out, any increase is more manageable.”

Young said Winthrop enjoys a good working relationship with the other nine communities. Those relationships should withstand the increase, he said.

“I don’t think a 25 percent increase over four or five years is unreasonable,” Young said. “I don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642 ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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