No agreement reached on P'dale 911
Progress made at joint work session

COVINGTON - Some issues in a dispute over 911 fees that will be charged to Porterdale for dispatch services were resolved during a work session held at the Newton County Historic Courthouse on Tuesday night, but the way the fees are calculated remains a sticking point for Porterdale officials.

The county and city have agreed to recalculate the amount owed by Porterdale and to allow the police chief of Porterdale a seat on the 911 Center board of directors, Covington City Manager Steve Horton said.

The Porterdale Council has refused to sign a contract requiring the city to pay for its percentage of dispatch calls based on the center's annual budget, minus funds received from E-911 surcharges.

Initially, Porterdale's fee was calculated at nearly $46,000. However, Porterdale challenged the methodology used to calculate the fee, saying it violated the language in the contract, which called for the number to be based on calls generated during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008.

Because the city of Covington was transitioning from a calendar year budget to a July-June budget, the first fee calculation used information from the July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009, E-911 budget, according to Horton.

After Porterdale officials protested, the fee was recalculated by doubling the six month budget running from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2008, in an attempt to approximate a full year's cost.

The recalculated fee was $35,048.

"This did not accurately meet the intent of the proposed contract language either, even though it produced a budget cost number less than the first calculation did," Horton said.

At Tuesday's meeting, Horton said the figure would be recalculated again based on actual cost of dispatch services for July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008, although there was no budget for that time frame.

The number will also be based on the actual call percentages generated by Porterdale during that period.

While Porterdale City Attorney Tim Chambers and Mayor Bobby Hamby agreed the new method would be more fair, Chambers said officials don't think the city should be charged for all calls generated from Porterdale.

Chambers said the city should be charged for calls generated by the fire and police departments and possibly public works and other city departments. But, it should not be charged for calls generated by residents, he said.

"Instead of looking at where calls are generated, we should look at the user," he said.

Residents don't create an additional burden on the 911 Center, he said, noting that residents in municipalities like Newborn and Mansfield that do not have their own police and fire service are not charged extra for 911 services.

He said residents in Porterdale already pay taxes and surcharges to cover 911 services.

County Attorney Tommy Craig noted that the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the double taxation argument in the case Gilmer County vs. the city of Ellijay, where circumstances were similar.

"Legally there's not a lot of precedent to support the approach you're asking the city and county to take," he said.

Porterdale drafted its own proposed contract including a provision that only calls generated by the city would be charged. The contract also gives Porterdale a seat on the 911 Center board of directors and calls for binding arbitration if an agreement with the city and county cannot be reached.

Horton said that while the city and county disagree that Porterdale is entitled to a seat on the board of directors, as Porterdale officials have claimed, the Porterdale and Oxford police chiefs will nonetheless be allowed a seat. Oxford has already agreed to pay its portion of dispatch calls, at $18,282.

Craig said the county and city will agree to binding arbitration if needed.

Craig asked Porterdale officials to consider setting a minimum payment that would be agreeable to everyone while the details of the final contract are being worked out, in case the disagreement is not resolved by June 30, the end of the fiscal year and the deadline Porterdale was given to pay the fee or have its dispatch services discontinued.

According to E911 Director Mike Smith, citizen 911 calls that originate in Porterdale will still be handled through the center. Porterdale would be required to handle its own dispatch calls.

Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox said the council will hold a called meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to discuss its next move.

"I think the meeting went very well. I think it was very productive and everybody approached it with a spirit of cooperation and collaboration," he said.

Horton said the next steps for the city and county are to recalculate the fee; meet with city and county legal advisors to review Porterdale's alternative contract; and then attempt to finalize the dispatch services agreement with Porterdale officials.

The 911 Center is funded by the city of Covington and Newton County. Smith said in January that the center has been shouldering the dispatch call expense for Porterdale and Oxford for years and could no longer continue to do so.

Executive Editor Alice Queen contributed to this story.

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