Porterdale won't yield on 911 charge

COVINGTON - The Porterdale City Council is still delaying payment of its portion of dispatch services provided by the Covington-Newton County 911 Center.

Councilman Robert Foxworth said that following discussion of the issue at its meeting last Monday night, the council still wants more information about the center's budget and would like a face-to-face meeting with 911 Center Director Mike Smith, Covington Mayor Kim Carter and Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Morgan.

The contract under consideration would require Porterdale to pay for its percentage of police calls dispatched through the 911 Center. Porterdale generates about 4 percent of total calls dispatched through the center, which would amount to about $46,000 in 2009. The contract extends for five years, with the annual payment dependent on call volume.

"All we're asking for is payment for their share of services rendered," Carter said at a recent Covington City Council work session.

Smith said the 911 Center has provided dispatch and other services to Porterdale and Oxford for years at no charge.

The Oxford City Council has agreed to pay its share of $18,282, and both the county and city have signed off on that agreement. Oxford generates 1.5 to 2 percent of call volume at the center.

Mansfield and Newborn police and fire protection are handled by the county so they are not being asked to contribute.

In February, Morgan and Carter sent Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby a letter giving the council a deadline of Wednesday to make a decision whether to pay the charge or make arrangements to handle its own dispatch services.

"That's not going to happen," Foxworth said of meeting the deadline.

"They cannot cut us off just because they want us to pay this money and they have not justified why we have to pay this money. We're not going to respond to this letter. We need to meet face-to-face ... The letter they sent to us wasn't very nice. We're not going to be bullied," he added.

Foxworth said he has talked with many residents who believe the charges amount to double taxation.

"Mr. Smith cannot say that Porterdale and Oxford has had a free ride and contributes nothing to the 911 Center. Porterdale pays county taxes and pays the 911 surcharge like everyone else," he said.

Porterdale residents also pay taxes for EMS services and the council supported the special purpose local option sales tax, from which the 911 Center has benefited, he said.

The annual budget for the 911 Center comes in at $2.3 million, with 911 surcharges applied to all phones in the county paying for about $1 million of that. By law, those fees can only be used for 911 services and cannot be applied to dispatch services, Smith said.

Foxworth said the 911 Center appears to be operating outside its means and the Porterdale council has a right to question expenditures.

"If that budget can be cut, the money we have to pay can be cut," he said.

However, according to the letter sent by Morgan and Carter, the operations budget for the 911 Center is a separate issue.

"Please understand that the city of Porterdale is not being required to participate in the operations of the 911 Center. The proposed contract for dispatch services is merely to pay for services rendered. If you do not wish to participate in these services, you may choose to take over that responsibility as a city of Porterdale service," the letter states.

In order to allow Porterdale to have input on the budget and operations of the center, the county and city's intergovernmental agreement would have to be revised to include Porterdale and the city would be responsible for one-third of the annual budget, or approximately $333,333, the letter states. At that point, a Porterdale representative would be allowed a seat on the E911 Board of Governors, which some Porterdale officials have demanded.

Porterdale officials met with the Board of Governors as well as Smith since they were first notified they would be required to pay for dispatch services, but say they are not satisfied with the answers they've received.

"We're elected officials just like they are, looking after the best interests of the city of Porterdale," Foxworth said, adding that he's yet to hear good justification for forking over money that could result in a tax increase of up to 2 mills for residents.

He added that the city could dismantle its police department and save more than $500,000 per year.

"Should we be punished because we have our own police department, because we take a huge burden off the sheriff's department? If they think we're just going to roll over and play dead and pay this money, they've got another thing coming," he said.

Editor Alice Queen contributed to this story.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.