WINDHAM – Town Manager Tony Plante told the Town Council’s finance committee Thursday that he wants to save money by laying off a deputy fire chief and eliminating the public safety dispatch operation and joining a regional dispatch center.

The moves, recommended by Fire Chief Charles Hammond to help close an estimated $1 million budget gap, met fierce opposition from a room packed with the town’s police and fire and rescue personnel.

The proposal to eliminate the town’s dispatch center and contract with the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center would save the town $135,551 in the 2010-2011 municipal budget.

The move could mean that six dispatchers would lose their jobs, but Cumberland County officials said they would hire back five of the displaced personnel who are qualified for the job.

Some raised concerns that moving the dispatch center would make it hard for the public to get assistance at the department after hours. Plante said a phone at the public safety building would connect residents to a dispatcher.

Bill Holmes, emergency communications director for Cumberland County, said in an interview during the meeting that residents who call 911 are connected with dispatchers in Westbrook before the call is routed back to Windham. He said it’s a loss of 30 to 40 seconds during an emergency situation.

“Windham is not a designated 911 call center,” Holmes said. “receiving the emergency calls direct, the caller’s address is mapped into the dispatcher’s computer screen at the call center in Windham.”

About a dozen members of the public asked to speak after the budget presentations.

“Do not touch these fire and police departments,” said Tommy Gleason, a Windham resident.

“When it comes to the dispatch center, I blame the Town Council. You have been putting this off and putting this off. Now your backs are against the wall,” Gleason said.

Plante’s proposed budget also calls for reductions in training for police and fire personnel, along with the elimination of Deputy Fire Chief John Wescott, who does fire inspections and reviews site plans for new developments.

If the proposed budget passes, those tasks would be handled by Hammond and trained call firefighters. Wescott objected.

“I disagree with the chief,” Wescott said. “I have looked through the budget. My position doesn’t need to be eliminated. There are other opportunities in the fire and rescue budget to cut from. Taking my position away is the wrong direction for the town.”

Town Councilor Carol Waig spoke out against the proposed cuts and eliminating the dispatch center. She said the town has over 17,000 residents. She defended Wescott’s job.

“The deputy chief supervises over 70 volunteer fire staff,” Waig said. “Who will do that? I know it’s not popular, but I would support raising taxes to a point to keep these services.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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