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Before getting serious, towns to consider study
MEXICO -- From the start, it was evident that the latest edition of talks between Mexico and Rumford officials about sharing or combining services would be different from the unsuccessful attempts in the past.
At last Wednesday's workshop, rather than spend two hours agreeing on areas they could address, they took a more realistic approach of first having a professional group take an unbiased look at the two towns.
Acknowledging that past attempts failed because of biases, egos and head butting, the group supported asking Municipal Resources, Inc. of Meredith, NH to address questions from town officials about the company's specialty -- regionalization/consolidation studies.
That public workshop, in which all River Valley towns are invited, will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8 in the Rumford Falls Auditorium. Municipal Resources, Inc. reps Don Jutton (president) and Alan Gould (vice president/CEO) will be attending.
Mexico Selectman Reggie Arsenault set the tone for Wednesday's workshop when he announced that he contacted this business.
He said he was told the fee for an initial study would cost $5,000.
Mexico Town Manager John Madigan added that "$5,000 would be just the tip of the iceberg. A thorough accessment would probably cost $20,000. We need an outside opinion. There are so many biases. A lot of issues are at stake."
Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia added, "This is worth our time to look into it. They're probably a credible resource."
Mexico Selectman Byron Ouellette noted, "A fresh set of eyes on the situation might be what we need. Maybe we can see what other towns have done."
Rumford Selectman Jeff Sterling, "It's worth it if we take a longer time to work on it rather than a shorter time to screw it up."
They will also check to see if there are any monies available to assist from the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.
Madigan said, "AVCOG provided funding for a facilitor for the Committee of 50 For the Future in the late eighties that led to the merger for the Rumford-Mexico schools."
Mexico Board Chairman Richie Philbrick said, "If we're serious, we've gotta say when's our next meeting and what are going to be doing. Let's go for the future."
Rumford Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said she'd like to lead with the fire department "because they've had some success in this."
Rumford Fire Chief Bob Chase and Mexico Fire Chief Gary Wentzell, who were in attendance, led the effort for the purchase of a ladder/pumper truck now shared by the two towns.
Wentzell said he agrees with an independent group looking at this, but noted, "Bob (Chase) and I think it would have more benefit on the fire side if four towns were part of it. I think that's where you'll notice more savings."
Mexico Selectman Peter Merrill reviewed notes he had from the last time the board held these talks, and areas where they could join forces. "We have to give small business people a reason to stay here and support them."
Madigan said if the towns do merge, there are several things that have to be looked at. "We need to have an outside agency to look at it for us, to have the data of what happens down the road."
He noted, "Everything we're done together, we've done well (Med-Care, solid waste, sewer). They're all quasi-municipal, meaning that's all they have to deal with.. That's part of their success and it works for us very well. The trade-off is that town get an assessment every year and have no say."
Rumford Selectman Brad Adley added that this kind of effort could be made for a public safety commission.
Ouellette said he thought Dixfield should be included in the regionalization talks.
Sterling said, "Rumford and Mexico is a big step. Bringing another town into it might make it more difficult."
Lovejoy agreed. "Do something between two towns because we're so close. If we're successful, other towns will want to join us."
Len Greaney, one of 15 citzens in the audience, said, "We should look at it on a broad scale. We could do many things at a time if organized. The public has a lot to say and should have some input."
Ouellette agreed. "I think we should extend a hand to other communities."
Citizen Kevin Saisi said, "I'm not a fan of merging towns but bring everyone in and see what they think about how they want to participate in this. Invite all the towns in, but as a quasi-municipal entity and towns can contract where they want and benefit as well."
Madigan said, "What has to be emphasized is that both towns for 100 years have had their eggs in one basket -- the mill. For the future, we have to look at the real demographics of the whole area. We're really one whole community in the River Valley. The further you go out, the more resources you have, and you stand a better chance if you lose one of those resources. And as a region, you have a lot more clout in Augusta."
He also noted that this area needs a fulltime economic developer, someone to take advantage of what's available for the area. "For us to survive in the future, we have to look bigger -- regional."
Another citizen noted that he's paying taxes in both towns and that instead of taking a year to study this, they should be working at where monies could be saved now.
Arsenault noted, "We have to show a savings and a drop in the mil rate for our citizens."