China Town Officials Clash With State Over Emergency Dispatch Services 

Town officials in China say the state is charging them too much for emergency dispatch services. Now state officials say if they don’t pay up by June 1st, those services will cease.Kennebec County stopped their dispatch services three years ago, handing those services over to the Department of Public Safety. They now provide the emergency service for 21 municipalities and only one has opted to not pay the state in full for that service, China. “We’ve been very lenient with them. We’ve been very patient. We’ve had a number of meetings with them and it has finally come to a point where they need to pay us for what they owe us. It’s as simple as that,” Public Safety Spokesman Steve McCausland said Monday. What they owe, according to Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, is $51,565. “The Department of Public Safety regrets to inform the Town of China that the Department will not provide law enforcement dispatch services to the Town as of 12:01 AM, Friday, June 1, 2012, unless by or before that date the Town pays the overdue amount of $51,565 the Town owes the Department for providing such services,” Morris wrote in a letter to Dan L’Heureux, Town Manager of China. That’s not the only threat made in the letter. “Please also be advised at this time that the State of Maine will soon be initiating litigation against the Town of China to recover the unpaid overdue fees the town owes to the State.”State law says every municipality must contract a dispatch service that takes 911 calls if they don’t have one. Attorney Alton Stevens, who represents the Town of China, says they’re abiding by the law. China pays Somerset County to take their 911 calls and Winslow crews respond to those calls. The problem is, when someone dials 911 from a cell phone in China, that call is automatically routed to the Central Maine Regional Communications Center in Augusta, not Somerset County. “And if it requires dispatch services, instead of directing that dispatch to the town of Winslow, it directs them to itself,” Stevens said.It’s usually Kennebec County Sheriff’s Deputies that are sent, not Winslow Police. “We dispatched over 1300 calls of the sheriff’s department, which is what they’re paying us for,” McCausland said. “That was 1300 calls last year alone.” Stevens says he doesn’t know why 911 calls made from a cell phone are routed through Augusta. But he steadfastly maintains China is obeying the law, and owes the Department of Public Safety nothing. “The statute only requires you to provide services to us, and gives you the authority to collect for those services at a specific rate determined by a board created by the legislature, in the circumstances that we don’t have a contract with anybody. But we do. So you don’t have any authority to bill us for those services,” Stevens said.McCausland says Commissioner Morris hopes that suspending law enforcement response to China or suing the town aren’t necessary. But the State is prepared to go that route if the money is not paid by June 1st. “We hope that commissioner Morris’ letter to the town’s Board of Selectman and the town’s administrator is forewarning that we’re serious about this,” McCausland said. “We expect to be paid for what we’re owed.”Town officials say they have the money in an escrow account, and they’ve negotiated a deal with the state to field all of their 911 calls in the future. The state says that will only happen if the town pays them everything they owe. Stevens says he is unsure what the town plans to do now, but he maintains the past due amount is too high. “The state is charging significantly more than the cost of providing those services,” he said. “We don’t feel we should have to pay that high price. Especially when there’s no authority in the statute for requiring us to do so. Because we do have contracts with a PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) and a dispatch service.”