Maine has no shortage of local governments, but many communities are finding it harder to pay for theirs.

With nearly 500 cities and towns, scarce resources are spent on duplicating services that could be shared more efficiently, often without giving up anything but expense.

Nowhere is this more true than Greater Portland, which has a dozen political divisions between Biddeford and Brunswick, with most municipalities providing identical services to those provided by the next town.

So, it’s good news that Yarmouth’s Town Council has found a way to work with nearby Falmouth to contract for emergency dispatch services instead of manning its own center.

Yarmouth will be the immediate beneficiary, trimming $185,000 from its budget during a difficult fiscal year. In the long run, this plan sets a model for other ways that towns could share other services.

If dispatch can be shared, why not police patrol, fire, ambulance or public works? While each partnership has its own complexities, they all present opportunities to maintain services and save money.

Before we get too excited about the dispatch merger, however, there is still another shoe that could drop.

Two years ago, the Yarmouth council approved a similar deal with Cumberland County to take over dispatch services. But residents petitioned to put the question on the ballot, where it was defeated in a close vote.

That could happen again, but the same result seems less likely.

Since the last vote, a deep recession and cutbacks to state aid for schools and revenue sharing payments to towns have created new budget crises for many towns, including Yarmouth.

The town of North Yarmouth is also considering joining Falmouth, which would create a service area of 20,000 people.

Better information systems make it easier for fewer dispatchers to cover more ground. Regional dispatch centers around the country cover far larger geographical areas with much bigger populations than Greater Portland, and do it in a more cost-effective manner than the multiple entities that now provide services here.

Yarmouth’s contract with Falmouth is a step in the right direction. We hope it’s not the last.


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