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Porterdale balks at paying dispatch fees
City owes $46,000 for police calls handled by Newton County 911 Center

PORTERDALE - City Manager Tom Fox advised the City Council Monday night to delay signing an intergovernmental agreement with the Covington-Newton County 911 Center until the city can clear up some questions about the contract. The agreement calls for Porterdale to pay approximately $46,000 in 2009 for its police calls that are dispatched through the center.

Fox advised that before signing the agreement the city should request a seat on the 911 board, which oversees operation of the 911 Center, in order to protect the city's long-term interests. In addition, Fox said the city should have more information about what is covered under the contract. He pointed out that $46,000 amounts to a 2-mill increase in city property taxes, when Porterdale residents already pay Newton County property taxes and 911 surcharges on their phones.

Mike Smith, 911 Center director, said Tuesday that he had not yet heard from Porterdale officials, but clarified that the agreement calls for Porterdale to pay a proportional share of the cost of operating the 911 Center, minus what is paid by 911 surcharges. Porterdale's share is based on its dispatch call volume - in other words, he said, it is a fee for services rendered.

The annual budget for the 911 Center comes in at $2.3 million, Smith said in an earlier interview. 911 surcharges on all phones in the county pay for about $1 million of that, which leaves a balance of about $1.3 million to be paid by the agencies that use the center's dispatch services. All 911 surcharges, by law, must be used to pay for 911 dispatching and are not funded the same as other agency dispatch calls, he said.

Smith said that the 911 Center, funded by the city of Covington and Newton County, had been bearing the cost of dispatching police calls for both Oxford and Porterdale for years.

"The county leaders and city leaders cannot continue to provide this for free," Smith said Tuesday. "(Porterdale is) using services that they could otherwise provide on their own."

Smith pointed out that Porterdale is operating a full-time police department and its call volume has increased over the years.

"If they stop a car and run a tag, all that traffic comes through here," Smith said.

Porterdale Police Chief Wayne Digby recapped 2008 for council members Monday night, reporting that the Police Department saw a 26 percent increase in incidents between 2007 and 2008. Digby said that all arrests in Porterdale increased 23 percent year after year. At the same time, he said, fines and forfeitures had increased more than 100 percent. Porterdale netted $165,000 in fines and forfeitures in 2008, he said, after deducting the percentage that goes to the state.

Porterdale Police Department calls that are dispatched through the 911 Center amount to 4.02 percent of the total calls; Oxford's calls account for 1.61 percent of all calls. Oxford's contract calls for it to pay $18,282 for its share of operating the dispatch center. Smith said the dispatch fees charged to Porterdale and Oxford can be paid in monthly installments.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.