Penobscot County voters will be asked in July to approve a $6 million bond package to upgrade equipment used by the Penobscot Regional Communication Center to dispatch first responders. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Penobscot County will ask voters on July 14 to approve a $6 million bond to upgrade equipment on towers that relay signals to emergency responders and in the Penobscot County Communications Center.

The current equipment on the towers is more than 20 years old and parts are no longer available when it breaks down, director Christopher Lavoie said Friday.

“Dispatchers sit here, gather information and dispatch the appropriate response. If we can’t dispatch the appropriate response that’s scary. We need to be able to get people the appropriate help they need.”

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The communications center, located on the third floor of the historic Penobscot County Courthouse on Hammond Street in Bangor, is the busiest in the state.

In 2019, it handled 63,830 calls to 911, 289,301 non-emergency calls and more than 1.5 million calls from first responders in the field to the center.

The equipment being used now was installed in 1997, according to Lavoie. Replacement parts are no longer manufactured and there are no alert systems that tell the center when there’s a malfunction or something’s quit working.

“The only way we know is if we page a fire department twice and we don’t hear back from them,” he said.

The bond would need to be repaid within 10 years, the duration of the equipment’s warranty. If the measure passes, it would take between 12 and 18 months to get the new equipment installed and up and running.

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The repayment on the bond would be about $700,000, a year, according to Finance Director Judith Alexander. Using the 2020 assessment for the county that comes out to $3.50 per $100,000 assessed valuation.

“That’s the price of a cup of coffee,” Lavoie said.

Before the question goes on the ballot, the county budget committee must meet to approve it and three public hearings must be held in each commissioner’s district. Those meetings have not been set but are expected to be held remotely due to the coronavirus gathering restrictions.