Porterdale 911 dispute: City offers interim contract
Porterdale would pay center about $3,400

PORTERDALE - The City Council approved an interim contract for 911 dispatch services at a special called meeting Tuesday night.

The contract would require the city to pay $1,131.57 per month for the next three months to the Covington-Newton County 911 Center.

"We're making a good-faith effort to pay them for the next three months until we get all the details," on a final agreement, said Mayor Bobby Hamby.

The monthly fee represents 60 percent of what Porterdale would owe for dispatch services from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, Hamby said.

He said he expected to sign the contract Wednesday afternoon and submit it to the city of Covington and Newton County for approval.

For months now, 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 annual 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, to June 30, 2009, E-911 budget, according to Covington City Manager Steve 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.

At a recent work session between Porterdale, Covington and the county, 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 timeframe. The number will also be based on the actual call percentages generated by Porterdale during that period.

Porterdale officials have based the city's proposed monthly fee on their own calculations of that cost, which Hamby said totals about $22,000. That total was divided by 12, and 60 percent of that was taken to arrive at the fee $1,131.57 per month.

Porterdale Attorney Tim 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.

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.

The county and city had given Porterdale until June 30 to pay the fee or have its dispatch services discontinued.

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

At the work session, the county and city also agreed to allow Porterdale's police chief to sit on the 911 Center Board of Directors and to submit to binding arbitration if the two sides cannot reach a solution.

"The majority of the council was pleased with the outcome of that meeting. They finally addressed a lot of our concerns and questions that we had, and they admitted their original calculations were out in left field somewhere, I guess," Hamby said. "The council is pleased with that. There are still some issues to discuss with them and work out, including what constitutes a call ... if truly the intent of the user fee is because the police department adds additional work, that's what we need to pay for, is that additional work."

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