As one who believes that Gorham residents are better protected by having our own dispatch center, let me share some important points you should consider before voting on Monday, Sept. 12.

Despite their promises that there would be plenty of opportunities for public comment, the Town Council voted to eliminate our own communications center on Aug. 2, following a single, brief public hearing.

The predictable public outcry gave life to a petition drive to overturn their 4-2 vote. The process became difficult as the town moved quickly, signing a deal and turning over dispatch operations to county just two weeks later. They should have waited a few days before needlessly wasting tax money by moving and installing equipment. They alone are responsible for these bad decisions. More than 1,100 Gorham voters signed the petitions despite these town actions and in some cases because of them.

I have repeatedly asked for a breakdown of county’s costs to provide their service yet this highly important question remains unanswered. Why won’t they provide us with the information so that we can compare county’s costs to ours, line item by line item? What don’t they want us to know? By my conservative calculations, their costs for our five dispatchers is at least $34,000 higher than their bid, even without the non-labor costs or a promised sixth part-time dispatcher position. How can they possibly provide a service for this price or is the contract subsidized somehow?

On Monday Sept. 12, we the voters will have our say and we expect the town to listen. Those signing the petitions made it clear that should the council’s vote be overturned, the desired and expected outcome is the re-opening of our own dispatch center. What’s more, the Town Council should learn from this process that there are practical limits to their authority and that decisions of this magnitude must be decided by the voters. I find comfort in knowing that in many ways, voters still see Gorham as a “town meeting” kind of town.

Perhaps unwittingly, town officials have made it very clear through recent quotes in various newspapers, that they had previously decided to eliminate dispatch long before their public vote. They said that the plans to renovate the municipal center didn’t include dispatch. What were they planning to do with that space? Where are these plans? When was this decided? What’s important is that the cat is now out of the bag. Is this how Gorham operates?

A letter in the Aug. 31 American Journal from the town manager and the four councilors who voted for the outsourcing stated that another unfunded dispatcher might need to be added should our dispatch center be restored. Not true. That position was created and funded in FY 05 and included in the approved FY 06 communications budget. Interestingly, the position remained unfilled, costing us absolutely nothing even though the town presented it as a current cost and as part of the potential savings!

The dispatch supervisor was promoted to sergeant and will return to the police department once the training he is providing for county dispatchers is complete. He is still on the town’s payroll, but now he’s paid out of the police budget. No savings there, either.

What’s more, in the very same outsourcing vote and without any discussion, the council spent $107,000 of the “savings” on new administrative positions and a full-time animal control/traffic officer, calling them top priority needs. They couldn’t even get out of the room before spending nearly half of the savings. Talk about money burning a hole in their pockets!

For all of the reassurances that everything is working just fine, I have heard several reports of radio communications failures and of emergency personnel being sent to incorrect locations since county took over. Are these growing pains or growing problems that jeopardize our safety?

Cumberland County is positioning themselves to take advantage of the current regionalization hype. As a government body, however, they have significant weaknesses. Unlike Gorham’s Town Council, which has one councilor for every 2,000 residents, Cumberland County has just three commissioners, each one representing over 80,000 county residents. If county government expands, our voices will become weaker, if they will be heard at all. No, county government is not the panacea many people believe it to be. More county control means less local control. Can we trust them with that much power?

Cumberland County is already struggling to meet their public safety commitments. Recent news stories report how even the sheriff himself has been pressed into patrol duty as a result of staff shortages. Their communications center is in a similar predicament. Within a week, former Gorham dispatchers were offered all of the overtime they want, covering shifts other than Gorham’s. These dispatchers have had minimal training on county’s systems. How safe is that? How can anyone guarantee Gorham’s safety when county has so many problems of their own?

Town and county officials make it sound as though county could easily handle Gorham’s public safety traffic. With all due respect to the wonderful but small towns currently covered by county, Gorham’s needs are unique. Gorham’s fire calls alone are greater than that of all of the other 17 towns combined. This means that with a stroke of the pen, county’s responsibilities and problems practically doubled overnight. Their software systems are incompatible with Gorham’s and the fix is expensive, not to mention potential software licensing issues. Only one dispatching console will contain Gorham’s critical data, a step backward from our previous capabilities. I firmly believe that county is now dangerously over-extended and that when significant communications needs arise, these weaknesses could have life-threatening consequences.

The real question here is one of value. Do you believe we should buy our dispatch services from the lowest bidder, hoping to save a dollar we will never see returned or do you place a higher value on the peace of mind and security you get from knowing that the person on the other end of the line, a vital part of our emergency services team, knows you, your town, and that your call for help is their one and only priority?

Let’s clean up this mess by voting “yes” in large numbers on Monday, Sept. 12.

Visit www.savegorhamdispatch.4mg.com.

Steve Morin

Gorham


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