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911 center to add dispatchers
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The 911 center will get its four requested dispatchers by the end of fiscal year 2012.

The city of Covington approved the positions, but Newton County did not provide any additional funding in its budget; 911 is a consolidated, jointly-funded department.

Director Mike Smith said the center will add employees throughout the year, which will reduce the department's original salary increase request. After the hires, the 911 center will employ 31 workers, including 24 dispatchers.

Smith requested the employees in an effort to reduce overtime costs, which were piling up because of a lack of employees to fill all shifts. The center had $241,000 in overtime in calendar year 2010, but only budgeted $150,000 for the fiscal year from July 1, 2010 to June 30.

County Chairman Kathy Morgan said the 911 center should be bolstered by H.B. 256, which will go into effect Jan. 1 and calls for a 75-cent fee to be collected when a prepaid wireless phone is bought in Georgia.

The fee will be collected like sales tax and distributed to 911 centers based on the population size they serve. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia projects $20 million will be collected per year and estimates that prepaid phones account for 20 percent of the wireless cell phone market.

A prepaid phone fee has been in place since 2008, but the system was convoluted and not uniformly followed by vendors. In addition, none of the $28 million collected was sent to 911 centers, but was spent in the state's general fund. The new law addresses these issues.

Smith said he did not know how much the Covington-Newton County 911 Communications Center would receive in revenue, but said he hoped it would eventually reduce the amount of money appropriated to the center from the city and county.

All phone customers pay 911 surcharges, which provide about $1.2 million in funding each year for the local 911 center.