MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Town board members in Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert and Bar Harbor have expressed support for having Mount Desert take over emergency dispatch services for Southwest Harbor.
“I would hope we could move forward with it,” Lydia Goetze, chair of the Southwest Harbor Select Board, said at the Acadia-area League of Towns’ annual meeting of elected officials last Thursday. “I don’t sense any opposition on the select board.”
Three Mount Desert selectmen said they, too, are for it.
“I think our select board is in favor of this,” Martha Dudman said.
“I know I certainly am,” said Rick Mooers.
Wendy Littlefield called it a “win-win.”
Jeff Dobbs, chairman of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said he wants the issue on the agenda for the council’s next meeting.
The idea of merging dispatch services arose in July, when the Southwest Harbor Police Department lost its overnight dispatcher. That position has since been filled, but Southwest Harbor Police Chief Alan Brown told the elected officials last week, “Hiring is a problem. For smaller agencies such as mine, finding qualified candidates is very difficult.”
Jim Willis, chief of both the Mount Desert and Bar Harbor police departments, said it is a challenge for him, too.
“We’ve been through four full-time dispatchers in Bar Harbor in six months,” he said.
Willis and Brown talked with the Mount Desert selectmen in October about the possibility of merging the towns’ dispatch services. At that time, the selectmen said they wanted to find out what their counterparts in the other towns thought about a consolidation.
Willis said it is important that Bar Harbor officials be involved in the conversation.
“If a Mount Desert dispatcher calls out sick tonight, I can run Mount Desert from Bar Harbor and vice versa,” he said. But adding Southwest Harbor would add some complexity. And Southwest Harbor would need to update its equipment and switch to the radio frequencies that the other two towns use.
As for his interest in helping Southwest Harbor with dispatch services, Willis said, “I feel strongly we should keep dispatching on MDI.”
Mooers agreed, saying, the sharing of dispatch services “keeps dispatch on this island” rather than having the county take it on. “It’s not a big, scary thing. We’re keeping it in the family.”
Willis noted that Southwest Harbor residents have voted in the past to keep their own dispatch service. But Goetze and Southwest Harbor Select Board member Ryan Donahue said they think attitudes have changed.
“People were concerned for years about losing jobs,” Donahue said. “But when (they understand) that we’re having a hard time filling those jobs … they get a different picture of it.”
It is now up to the Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert and Bar Harbor town managers and police chiefs to work out the details of a merging of dispatch services for their town boards to approve.