HALLOWELL – The state should cover some costs for local emergency dispatch centers to consolidate with regional 911 call centers, the Public Utilities Commission says.

The commission believes that getting local dispatch centers to consolidate voluntarily with regional call centers would cut costs and improve public safety.

But many municipalities are reluctant to give up control of their dispatching services and will need incentives to do so, the PUC wrote in a letter to legislators.

On Monday, the PUC made a final recommendation to the Legislature on how to consolidate to reduce the number of 911 call centers in the state from 26 to 17 and improve emergency dispatching services.

All emergency calls in the state are answered at designated 911 call centers, called public-safety answering points. Many are then transferred to local dispatchers, who alert police, fire and rescue departments.

Though consolidating 911 call centers would save the state money, the commission said, public safety will improve only if the local dispatch centers consolidate, as well. Transferring calls is inefficient and creates opportunities for human and technological errors, the PUC said.

The final consolidation plan varied little from an initial one released in August. That plan recommended one 911 call center per county with an additional center in Portland.

Changes in the final version include having no call center in Aroostook County and allowing a third in Cumberland County.

Buying new software and changing radio frequencies are some of the upfront costs of consolidation, said Maria Jacques, director of the PUC’s Emergency Services Communication Bureau. Those are the costs the commission is recommending the state help pay, she said.

In addition, public safety officials said at a hearing in September that consolidation would shift other costs away from the state and onto communities.

Scarborough, for example, provides dispatching for Buxton and Old Orchard Beach. If the town consolidated with Portland, as recommended, it would lose revenue from the other two towns and would have to start paying Portland for the service.

“It’s not fair. Somebody has to say, ‘Enough,’” said Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton.

The new plan would be the second 911 call center consolidation effort in the past decade. The first was initiated in 2003, when the state had 48 public-safety answering points. Cost and service issues led the Legislature to ask the PUC to come up with another plan.

The Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee will consider the plan during the next legislative session.Though consolidating 911 call centers would save the state money, the commission said, public safety will improve only if the local dispatch centers consolidate, as well.