Porterdale officials angered over 911 fees
Councilman rips up contract

COVINGTON - Porterdale City Councilman Robert Foxworth didn't hold back his feelings as he faced the Board of Commissioners Tuesday night.

Holding up a letter that gives Porterdale officials the ultimatum of paying for dispatch services provided by the Covington-Newton County 911 Center or else providing the service for themselves, Foxworth said he's fed up with the city and county's bullying of Porterdale.

"This is a slap in the face to Porterdale. This is what I think of your contract," he said, before ripping the document to shreds.

The letter, dated May 19, was sent to Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby and signed by Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan and Covington Mayor Kim Carter.

It gives the Porterdale Council until June 10 to approve and sign a contract and submit it to 911 Director Mike Smith, or until June 5 to submit an alternate contract for review.

If the city does neither, dispatch services will be discontinued effective midnight July 1, the letter states.

"I do not speak for the council. I speak for myself, but I have a good deal of influence with the council," Foxworth said. "We're not going to agree to anything like this until our concerns are answered."

Following Foxworth's comments, District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming asked for a work session "with all the players, so we can work this out."

Fleming said he was aware of the disagreement with Porterdale, but had not seen the most recent letter, which he said was sent without board input.

County Attorney Tommy Craig also said he was unaware of the letter until Foxworth gave him a copy prior to the meeting, and said he would need time to review it.

Morgan said she would agree to hold a work session at Craig's direction following his review of the letter.

Foxworth and Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox both said Wednesday a meeting is what they've been after from the get go, but county and city officials have refused.

Fox said the city put down its concerns in writing, as requested, resulting in a document of more than 90 pages.

The document included a letter from Mayor Bobby Hamby, who claimed the budget period used to calculate the cost of operating the 911 Center and the figures used to calculate Porterdale's percentage of calls are not the same figures specified in the contract, resulting in an overcharge of the city.

Hamby also questioned basing Porterdale's payment on a budget rather than on actual expenditures.

"While Porterdale has been provided with a document reflecting the 2007 budget and 2007 actual expenditures, it appears that the budgeted amounts exceed the actual expenditures by 12 percent," Hamby wrote. "Porterdale has reservations about entering into a contract based upon proposed budget figures when it appears that proposed budget amounts may exceed the actual costs of providing the service by 12 percent."

In addition, Hamby requested clarification of certain budget items, including fund transfers and expenditures for systems development maintenance, liability insurance, training and travel expenses, and equipment maintenance, among others. Hamby also questioned whether Porterdale will be required to help pay for capital expenditures for the 911 Center.

Since the 911 Center earns interest on its E-911 Surcharge Special Revenue Fund, Hamby asked if that will be taken into account when calculating Porterdale's share of the cost of operating the center.

Hamby also reiterated Porterdale's request for a voice on the 911 Center's board of governors, a request that was denied in March.

Foxworth and Fox said most of those questions have still not been answered.

The contract, which extends for five years, would require Porterdale to pay for its percentage of police calls based on the center's annual budget less funds received from E-911 surcharges for the previous fiscal year. Initially, 911 Director Mike Smith said Porterdale generates about 4 percent of total calls dispatched through the center, which would amount to about $46,000 in 2009.

The May 19 letter sent by Carter and Morgan states that Porterdale's fee has been recalculated at $35,048, based on Porterdale generating about 3.4 percent of calls.

According to the letter, the previous fee was calculated before complete information was available for fiscal year 2008.

If the city approves the dispatch services contract, a Porterdale public safety official may be a guest at Board of Governors meetings, but will not be allowed voting privileges, the letter states.

"Please understand that the City of Porterdale is not being required to participate in the operation of the 911 Center. The proposed contract for dispatch services is to merely pay for services rendered. If you do not wish to participate in these services, you may choose to take over that responsibility as a City of Porterdale service," the letter states.

Fox vowed Porterdale officials won't let the county and city make good on the threat to discontinue services July 1.

"That won't happen. The city is prepared to do whatever is legally necessary to make sure that doesn't happen," Fox said. "Our citizens can rest assured their 911 services will not be interrupted."

According to Smith, 911 calls that originate in Porterdale will still be handled through the center. It's only police dispatch calls that will be affected.

Fox said the city and county are violating the service delivery strategy for emergency services enacted in 1999, which states emergency communications and dispatch services will be funded jointly by the city and county "until county-enacted 911 fees for phone services, which are expected to generate revenue by the end of December 1999, are realized."

"It is unethical for them not to honor their agreement. They should do the right thing and honor the service delivery strategy," Fox said.

Fox said the center is operating beyond its means, with surcharges not covering enough of the expenses.

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.

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 year to pay $18,282 for the fiscal year beginning July 1 its share of dispatch services. Oxford generates about 1.5 to 2 percent of total call volume, Smith said.

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

Editor Alice Queen contributed to this story.

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