Porterdale votes for 911 contract

PORTERDALE - The City Council approved a contract for 911 dispatch services at its meeting Monday night, returning the contentious issue to the Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners for their determination.

The council voted 3-2, with Councilmen Robert Foxworth and Mike Harper opposed, to approve a contract that calls for Porterdale to pay approximately $24,000 annually for its share of dispatch calls that originate in Porterdale and are handled by the Covington-Newton County 911 Center.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said Thursday that City Council members are not completely satisfied with the contract approved Monday night, but most felt it was time to settle the matter. The contract was drawn up by attorneys representing Porterdale, Covington and Newton County last week, Hamby said, and includes some provisions that were important to Porterdale while others were excluded.

The contract provides for Porterdale to have representation on the 911 Center Board of Directors; however, it requires Porterdale to pay for 100 percent of 911 dispatch calls originating in the town rather than just the percentage generated by the Police Department.

"We still don't think that's right," Hamby said. "It's not fair to our citizens because there should be a baseline. If a citizen out in the county calls 911 ... and they send a deputy out there, it is covered under the 911 surcharge and the county tax. Our argument is that our citizens should receive that same service," since they also pay the 911 surcharge and county millage rate.

Hamby noted that while the contract has been approved by Porterdale, it has not been signed nor approved by the other governing bodies involved. He said a meeting between Porterdale, Covington and Newton County officials to discuss some items in the contract was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Covington City Hall.

Hamby said he thinks it is time to get the contract resolved, while continuing to study the issues involved.

"The way I'm looking at it is we need to move forward with this thing and continue to work on it. We just need to get this thing done for now," he said.

The contract approved by Porterdale on Monday night is the latest revision in a string of contracts approved by one side and rejected by the other. City Manager Tom Fox characterized this version as a compromise. "We are anticipating that they would approve it," he said.

The 911 Center first proposed a contract for dispatching services to Porterdale in December. Porterdale delayed signing the agreement and, following negotiations with Covington and Newton County, approved an interim contract in June. That contract was rejected by the city of Covington, which then approved its own revised edition of the contract.

A July 15 deadline was set by Covington and Newton County to reach an agreement with Porterdale on the dispatch contract.

The $24,000 annual fee approved by Porterdale in the most recent contract revision is approximately $22,000 less than the 911 Center had originally required. Porterdale officials challenged the methodology used to calculate the fee, leading to the reduction.

The 911 Center is jointly funded by Newton County and the city of Covington. Until this year, the city and county shouldered the full cost of operating the center, and E-911 Director Mike Smith has said they can no longer afford to do so.

Oxford, which also has a police department, has already signed a contract to pay for its proportional share of 911 calls dispatched through the center. Mansfield and Newborn do not operate police departments. 911 calls originating in those towns are covered by the county.