Porterdale’s long dispute regarding paying for 911 dispatch services is nearing an end, as the Porterdale City Council narrowly approved a revised contract at Monday’s meeting.
Porterdale approved the contract 3-2, with Council Members Robert Foxworth and Mike Harper opposing the contract. Mayor Bobby Hamby said he and some council members remained concerned about the fact that Porterdale has to pay for all calls made within the city limits, which result in the Porterdale police officer being dispatched, including those calls made by city residents.
"The county and Covington have been firm on this, not willing to give … we approved it under their conditions," Hamby said. "We still feel it’s not right and that it’s doing our citizens an injustice; not only our citizens but the citizens of Covington and Oxford too. The Covington citizens have been overpaying for years. As a property owner in Covington I feel like (I was paying too much.)
"It basically boils down to whether we want to spend a lot of money to prove this point, or go ahead and agree to it. We agreed to pay for 100 percent (of calls from Porterdale). We’re not talking about a lot of money at this point."
Both sides have had to make concessions in order to find a middle ground, with Covington and Newton County earlier agreeing to give Porterdale a seat on the 911 Communications Center Board of Governors, the center’s oversight board.
Hamby said Porterdale is ready to make its first payment as soon as Covington and Newton County officials sign the contract.
City Manager Steve Horton said the city council will vote on the contract at the July 20 meeting and he believes it will pass without any problems.
County Administrative Officer John Middleton said he anticipated that the contract will be on the Board of Commissioner’s July 21 agenda.
Horton said the revised contract was created at a meeting between
Porterdale Attorney Tim Chambers, County Attorney Tommy Craig and Covington Attorney Ed Crudup. Chambers said the attorneys revised the contract, but he declined to comment on any discussions about the whether Porterdale should be charged for all calls made from Porterdale or only those made by Porterdale police officers and other city officials.
Porterdale has argued that calls made by residents are already paid for by county taxes and 911 surcharge fees. During June’s joint work session, Chambers provided the example of two car accidents, one taking place within Porterdale’s city limit and one taking place outside. 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 that 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. If Porterdale had no police department, the city would not have to pay any additional fees.
For the rest of 2009, Porterdale will pay Covington $2,060.67 per month, based on the percentage of calls made by Porterdale between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008. After December 2009, the fee will be recalculated, using the figures from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009. This recalculation process will take place every year.
Under the revised contract Porterdale would pay $24,728.04, assuming the percentage of calls didn’t change when recalculated. The first cost given to Porterdale earlier this year was $45,649, based on the percentage of calls made during January 2008 to October 2008.
The contract is for five years, but it can be renewed an additional nine times, each time for five years.
Horton said he, 911 Communications Center Director Mike Smith, Craig and Crudup met Wednesday to go over the revised contract. He said Smith wanted to clarify the meaning of some of the wording to prevent any future problems. Smith said by e-mail Thursday that he had no issues with the contract and was looking forward to seeing it signed.
Hamby said he was looking forward to moving past this dispute with the county and Covington.
"From the beginning we have wanted to come to an agreement. It’s taken a long time to get all parties together, sit down and agree to everything. I’m optimistic that once this I finalized, we can go back to business as normal."