January 20

Regional meeting in Gardiner will explore ways communities can share services

More sharing and cooperation between cities and towns in the capital area can save money, Gardiner city manager says.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The city of Gardiner is holding a meeting Wednesday night with municipal leaders from surrounding communities to discuss ways towns and cities can share or consolidate services.

The goal is to find opportunities to save money through more cooperation, Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner on Pray Street. Gardiner City Council will hold a regular meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., following the regional meeting.

In the first half of the meeting, speakers will present examples of consolidation in other regions of the state, services sharing that’s already going on in the area and what kind of sharing opportunities might be available.

Municipal leaders in the second half will get a chance to talk in a round table-type format about the possibilities of sharing and consolidation in the region, Morelli said.

“Every year when I’m giving a budget presentation or preparing the budget,” Morelli said, “it always seems like the discussion comes up, ‘Gee, isn’t there more we can do to share services or regionalize?’” to avoid cutting services or raising taxes.

Although some communities already share some services, Morelli said more can be difficult because some communities will lose some local control or others may not have as much savings.

“It gets a little political and complicated,” he said.

Cities and towns in the state could be facing significant drops in state funding if the Legislature fails to find $40 million in savings to prevent cuts to municipal revenue sharing. The state budget passed last year included some cuts to municipal revenue sharing, but lawmakers can prevent the additional municipal losses if they find the necessary savings or new revenue. That hasn’t happened yet.

Even without cuts to revenue sharing, Gardiner expects a projected shortfall of more than $500,000 for the fiscal year that begins in July. That could grow by another $265,000 with cuts to revenue sharing, Morelli said.

Representatives from most communities in what until recently was Senate District 21, which included Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, West Gardiner and Winthrop, as well as from Augusta and Richmond, are expected to attend on Wednesday, Morelli said.

Some communities in the region already share resources. Hallowell and Farmingdale have long shared a school system as Hall-Dale, and the communities have discussed the possibility of constructing a joint fire station.

Michael Starn, city manager for Hallowell, said he and a couple of city councilors plan to attend the Wednesday meeting in Gardiner. He said it makes sense for communities like Augusta, Hallowell, Farmingdale and Gardiner to find ways to share resources because they’re already connected by U.S. Route 201.

“I think all four communities want to work with each other,” Starn said. “We just have to find the opportunities.”

Gardiner’s wastewater plant also serves Farmingdale and Randolph, its library is open to residents from several area towns and the city’s ambulance service provides emergency and rescue service to Gardiner, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.

The city tried attracting Richmond, which left the ambulance service for a private company in 2008, to come back into the fold last year, but the town decided to stay with North East Mobile Health Services.

Gardiner had planned to use the additional revenue from serving Richmond to lower the costs for all the other towns in the partnership.

“We’re already doing stuff together,” Morelli said. “We just need to figure out ways we can do more because the budget pictures we’re all looking at, without good sized increases, we’re going to be losing services.”

(Continued on page 2)

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