LEWISTON - Moments after the new year began Tuesday, emergency phone calls from Sabattus and Durham took a new route.
Calls for help to police officers, firefighters or paramedics will go first to Androscoggin County's dispatch center, as they have for more than a decade. Then, in most cases, they'll be transferred to a dispatch center in Lisbon.
The reason is the long-debated Androscoggin County dispatching plan, which takes effect with the new year.
On Jan. 1, the county will begin charging fees to towns to dispatch their police, fire and emergency calls. Three towns -- Sabattus, Durham and Greene -- made agreements with Lisbon.
The Sabattus and Durham dispatching will begin right away.
In Sabattus, the agreement includes full-time dispatching of fire and rescue services and dispatching police during off hours. The town has been doing its own police dispatching from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and will continue that procedure in 2013.
In Durham, which has no police department, the deal calls for fire and rescue services only.
Greene also plans to transfer dispatching services to Lisbon, as soon as new radio equipment arrives from Fire Department personnel and first responders.
"At midnight, we'll be making the switch," Sabattus police Chief Anthony Ward said Monday. "From the residents' standpoint, they should see no real change."
People are still encouraged to dial 911 in case of an emergency. And the county will still serve as the initial recipient or public safety answering point for all county municipalities except Lewiston and Auburn. Call transfers should take only a few seconds.
And despite the changes, the county dispatch center is not expected to feel a sharp decline in its work, said Capt. Raymond Lafrance, who supervises dispatching and the patrol division at the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office.
The call volume for all three towns is modest. More importantly, the state's call answering system is getting better at handling 911 calls that originate from cellphones. In most parts of the county outside of Lewiston-Auburn, those calls go directly to the Maine State Police, which directs them to the appropriate agency.
New technology is going to be introduced that will automatically send many of those calls to the county.
"The state predicted we'll answer another 1,900 calls a year," Lafrance said. "We feel (the workload) will be about the same when all is said and done."