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County to continue 911 talks

COVINGTON - Newton County officials intend to keep talking with their Porterdale counterparts to reach an agreement on payment for E911 dispatch services.

Commissioner Tim Fleming said Wednesday that commissioners have agreed to extend the deadline for Porterdale to sign a contract from June 30 to July 15.

Commissioners have not had time to review a revised contract that was approved by the city of Covington on Monday night, Fleming said, so they will delay their vote until their July 7 meeting.

In the meantime, County Attorney Tommy Craig will work with the

Porterdale attorney to try to reach an agreement, he said. If none can be reached, the county may grant Porterdale a second work session to discuss the issue, as requested by Porterdale officials.

"The key is to keep an open dialogue and keep all parties involved," Fleming said.

"I've been working hard, trying to get a resolution in a manner that satisfies everybody and in a peaceful way," he added.

Porterdale officials have proposed their own interim contract. The Covington City Council rejected that contract Monday night, instead approving a revised contract drafted by the county and city legal teams.

Fleming said Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan was expected to notify city officials of the county's intent to extend the deadline.

Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby said he had not seen the revised contract and was upset the city approved it without any communication with Porterdale.

"You mean they had a (meeting) without including us again?" he said when contacted Tuesday, adding that he needed to consult with the city attorney.

Under Porterdale's contract, the city would pay $1,131.57 per month for the next three months for dispatch services.

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. The total was divided by 12 and 60 percent of that was taken to arrive at the monthly fee.

Porterdale's proposed 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 put Porterdale's annual fee at $24,728.

Initially, Porterdale's annual fee was calculated at nearly $46,000. However, Porterdale officials 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, E911 budget.

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, Covington City Manager Steve 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 revised contract, Porterdale would be charged for all calls generated from the city, including those made by residents.

The contract also gives the Porterdale police chief a seat on the 911 Board of Governors and provides for binding arbitration if the dispute cannot be resolved, both concessions requested by Porterdale officials.

The Porterdale City Council has been refusing for months to approve a contract requiring the city to pay for its percentage of dispatch calls based on the center's annual budget, minus funds received from E911 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 city and county residents are already paying the additional cost of maintaining the center, to the tune of more than $700,000 last fiscal year.

E911 Director Mike Smith said the county and city have shouldered the burden for Oxford and Porterdale for years. Oxford has already agreed to pay its share of dispatch services costs.

Even if Porterdale is cut off from dispatch services, emergency calls would still go through the 911 Center, according to Smith.

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