May 30, 2020

Government regionalization debated County officials use convention to talk over ideas for combining services

KENNEBUNKPORT – Gov. John Baldacci sees potential savings in combining government units to improve efficiency.

But others aren’t so sure, and made their views known at the annual state convention of county officials Saturday.

Bath City Manager John Bubier said that reducing bureaucracy might not always save money.

“We can deliver a better service,” Bubier said in remarks at the Colony Hotel. “But there may be a cost associated with a greater service level.”

Other government representatives from the county and municipal level, as well as business leaders, said regionalization is hard to organize and tough to sell.

Combining services across Maine will offset a state deficit and make municipal government leaner, Baldacci said. He’s also trying to reorganize some state agencies.

“Our tax burden is too high,” Baldacci told officials. “We have to change our ways.”

But some said the change would be a hard sell.

“Maine people are very leery of bigger government and they’re afraid that if you regionalize on a broad scale, it’ll create another layer of bureaucracy and it’ll cost more,” said Bob Stone of Lewiston, treasurer of Common Sense for Maine Taxpayers, a recently formed political action group and chairman of Lewiston’s finance committee.

Stone said Lewiston buys police cruisers with other departments to try to save money, but he thinks larger-scale combinations across Maine will make for tough politics.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Ron Gagnon said that “turf issues” are making it as hard as it’s always been in Maine to promote regionalization.

“But we’ve got to sit at the table and help start the discussion,” he said.

Richard Ranaghan, former finance director for Portland and now a senior vice president with Peoples Heritage Bank, said Maine’s bureaucracy has too many layers.

“We’ve got 492 towns each with their own government in a state of 1.2 million people,” Ranaghan said. “With schools, we’ve got over 1,000 units of government.”

But Michael Starn of the Maine Municipal Association said there is less resistance to regionalization than 10 years ago.

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