City rejects P-dale 911 contract

COVINGTON - The City Council rejected Monday night an interim contract proposed by Porterdale for payment for 911 dispatch services.

Instead, the council approved a revised contract drafted by Covington and Newton County officials.

Under Porterdale's contract, the city would pay $1,131.57 per month for the next three months to the Covington-Newton County 911 Center.

Mayor Bobby Hamby previously told the Citizen that the contract was "a good faith effort to pay them" until a final agreement could be reached.

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

Porterdale officials have based the city's proposed monthly fee on their own calculations of that cost, totaling $22,631.58. That total was divided by 12, and 60 percent of that was taken to arrive at the monthly fee.

Porterdale's fee is based only on calls generated by the city. Porterdale officials have argued that the city should be charged only for city-generated calls and not calls generated by residents.

The revised contract approved by the city would reduce Porterdale's annual fee to $24,728.

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 time frame. The result was the annual fee of $24,728. Under the contract, the city would be charged for all calls distributed to a public safety agency, including those initiated by the public.

When asked for comment Tuesday, Hamby said he had not seen the revised contract, adding that he needed to consult with the city attorney.

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.

Porterdale officials have argued that residents already pay taxes and 911 surcharges and additional charges would equal double taxation. But Covington Mayor Kim Carter said Monday night that county and city residents are already paying extra.

From July 2007 through June 2008, expenses for the 911 Center totaled nearly $2.3 million, with revenues totaling $1.6 million. That left a balance of $723,038 to be paid by the county and city for operations.

She recommended the council approve the revised contract proposed by the county and city. The council unanimously agreed.

The contract also included concessions requested by Porterdale officials, including giving the Porterdale police chief a seat on the 911 Board of Governors and agreeing to binding arbitration if the dispute over the contract cannot be resolved.

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

"It has been stated, publicly and otherwise, that we're just going to chop them off at the knees, and that's not true," Horton told the council Monday.

In fact, 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.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners was expected to discuss the contracts at its Tuesday night meeting.

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