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Posted: June 4, 2009 6:59 p.m.

911 dispute close to solution

Porterdale concerned about dispatch service cost

By Gabriel Khouli/

"What is your emergency?": Carlos Rhodes responds to 911 calls and dispatches emergency responders Tuesday afternoon in the Newton County 911 Center. Rhodes is a part-time 911 Center employee and a full-time Jasper County Sheriff's deputy. Newton'...

Porterdale received answers to all of its 911 Center questions, but it still wasn’t satisfied with the amount of money it had to pay for emergency dispatch services. However, Porterdale, Covington and Newton County accomplished more in Tuesday’s 45-minute joint work session than they did in the previous few months of back and forth discussion.
 
The only issue remaining between Porterdale and Covington and Newton County is how Porterdale’s share of 911 dispatch fees is calculated. Porterdale argues that it should only pay for the calls generated by its police department and city officials, not for the calls generated by its citizens because those are paid for by regular county taxes.

Newborn and Mansfield don’t have to pay for dispatch services because they are serviced by the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department. This level of emergency service is the most basic level of service in the county, and the cities accept longer wait times for the reduced cost of not having to fund and staff city police and fire departments.

If a city wants a greater level of service it can choose to have its own police or fire department; Covington has both, Porterdale and Oxford only have city police departments. These city public safety departments provide a higher level of service, but by doing so, place a larger burden on the 911 center because those police and fire officers generate additional calls.

Porterdale City Attorney Tim Chambers said the city of Porterdale should only be charged for the fees generated by Porterdale officers, not residents within Porterdale city limits.

Chambers provided the example of a car accident taking place within and outside of Porterdale’s city limit. Regardless of where the person is from, if the 911 call is made within Porterdale, a Porterdale officer will be dispatched and that call would be charged to Porterdale. However, if the 911 call comes from just outside Porterdale, then a NCSO officer will be dispatched and the call will be charged to Newton County.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said the argument of double taxation was rejected in the Georgia Supreme Court Case Gilmer County v. the City of East Ellijay. But, Chambers said that case dealt with non-emergency dispatch services not emergency services.

911 Center Director Mike Smith said the existence of a Porterdale police department causes more Porterdale residents to call 911 because they know they will receive quick assistance. Smith said residents wouldn’t make some calls if they had to wait longer for a NCSO officer. He said there are several studies which support this phenomenon. Smith said that the center also has to do extra record keeping and system maintenance because of the existence of a Porterdale police department, which increases costs.

Craig said there wasn’t legal precedent to support’s Porterdale’s request, but Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox said he hoped county and Covington officials would still consider the alternate proposal. Chairman Kathy Morgan said she has directed Craig to further research the case law regarding 911 services payment and report back to the Board of Commissioners.

At the meeting, Craig asked if Porterdale would agree to pay some base level amount, as a show of good faith, until the final amount was agreed upon. This would help all cities plan their budgets before the start of fiscal year 2010.

Fox said the Porterdale City Council will discuss that possibility and the city’s next steps at Tuesday’s special-called work session, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Porterdale City Hall.

Porterdale had prepared an alternate dispatch services contract to give to the county and Covington, but with many issues addressed Tuesday, the contract will need to be reworked, Fox said.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement, they have agreed to go to mutually-binding arbitration. Morgan said the terms of any agreement reached with Porterdale will also be applied to Oxford to be fair and maintain consistency.

However, all of Porterdale’s other issues were addressed. Porterdale and Oxford’s police chiefs will be given a seat of the 911 Center Board of Governors, which Porterdale requested. Smith said it’s important to note that the BOG does not set the budget, but only provides oversight for the center.

Porterdale received satisfactory answers to its questions about specific 911 center budget lines and about previous budgets. Part of the past confusion stemmed from the fact that Covington and Newton County both funded parts of the 911 center, but were on separate fiscal year calendars complicating the budgeting process.

Finally, the period of time used to calculate the number of calls from the PPD, which determines the cost to Porterdale, was once again revised. Again, due to separate fiscal years, call numbers were difficult to identify for previous years, but those problems have been solved.

Covington and Newton County will use the period from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 to determine the number of calls. Currently, Porterdale is being asked to pay $35,048, based on 3.42 percent of 911 calls coming from Porterdale, but those numbers will change under the new calculation.

Although important questions remain, all parties involved said the meeting was a success.

“I thought it was good meeting; I’m always open to any of the municipalities sitting down with the county, especially in a situation like this where all share services,” Morgan said. I’m glad we had participation form Oxford, Porterdale, Covington and the county.”
Fox agreed that the meeting was largely a success.

“I think the majority of our concerns been answered to the city’s satisfaction, in a spirit of collaboration and good faith,” Fox said. “The issues are close to being resolved; we’re mainly working on the final details. It was a very good meeting, very professional, very cooperative.”
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