Porterdale still considering 911

PORTERDALE - Despite meeting with the Covington-Newton County 911 Center board of governors on March 18, city officials say they still need more information before they can decide whether to sign a contract with the center.

The contract, which extends for five years, would require Porterdale to pay for its percentage of police calls that are dispatched through the 911 Center. Porterdale generates about 4 percent of total calls dispatched through the center, which would amount to about $46,000 in 2009.

At a work session Thursday night, city officials agreed to seek more information - particularly regarding the costs of operating the center - before making a decision on the contract. City Manager Tom Fox, who along with Councilman Robert Foxworth attended the board of governors meeting, said the city should get an opinion from the city attorney before proceeding with the contract. The city plans to request a copy of itemized budget expenditures from the 911 Center.

Fox said he has concerns that the 911 Center is not run as efficiently as possible.

"Why should Porterdale pay a user fee if the budget is not run as efficiently as it could be?" he asked. "Why should we have to pay for that when our taxpayers are already paying?"

Porterdale property owners also pay Newton County property taxes and 911 surcharges.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said Porterdale does not have the revenue to cover the contract costs for 2009.

"Basically, we don't have the $46,000, and we'd have to raise taxes to do it," he said.

In a January letter to Covington Mayor Kim Carter, Newton County Commission Chairwoman Kathy Morgan and 911 Center Director Mike Smith, Porterdale outlined other concerns with the contract, including the fact that Porterdale would have no representation on the 911 board of governors, and therefore no input on expenditures, and that the contract covers a term of five years, during which the city's financial obligation might increase.

In a Feb. 13 response to Mayor Hamby, Carter and Morgan wrote that Porterdale's costs under the proposed contract are based on actual call volume generated by the city.

According to the letter, in order for Porterdale to have input in the expenditures, budget or operations of the center, it would have to become a partner with Newton County and Covington and be responsible for one third of the 911 Center's annual budget, or approximately $333,333.

In addition, the letter pointed out that the contract provides "a method for the parties to withdraw from the contract. Additionally, the contract specifies that costs are reconciled on an annual basis based on the actual call volume of service."

The 911 Center is funded by the city of Covington and Newton County. Director 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. Oxford's City Council agreed earlier this month to pay $18,282 for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which is its share of the cost of operating the 911 Center based on call volume. Oxford generates about 1.5 to 2 percent of total call volume, Smith said.

The annual budget for the 911 Center is about $2.3 million, with about $1.2 million coming in through surcharges, leaving about $1.1 million to be paid by the agencies that use the center's dispatch services.

Mansfield and Newborn police and fire protection are already handled by the county, so they are not being asked to contribute, Smith said.

Covington and Newton County are asking Porterdale to reach a decision on the contract by April 15.

Staff reporter Crystal Tatum contributed to this report.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.