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County calls work session to discuss 911 fees
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Porterdale, Covington and Newton County officials will attempt to resolve the contentious dispute over 911 center charges and services at a special joint work session Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse.

The dispute centers around the fact that Covington and Newton County, who run the 911 Communications Center, want Porterdale to sign a five-year intergovernmental agreement to pay for part of the center’s budget, but Porterdale has refused to do that until it gets answers to questions about the 911 center’s budget, which Porterdale officials think might have inefficiencies that are inflating the proposed cost to Porterdale’s.

Dialogue back and forth between the county, city and Porterdale has raised hackles on all sides over the past few months. Covington and Newton County officials have repeatedly expressed concern about Porterdale’s delay in signing a contract to pay for their use of the center, and Porterdale officials have said they are being unfairly threatened and bullied.

At May 19’s Board of Commissioners meeting the dispute came to a head when Porterdale Councilman Robert Foxworth spoke during the public comments. On May 6, Porterdale had sent a 93-page document to Mayor Kim Carter, Chairman Morgan and all city council members and county commissioners. The document contained seven pages of question and 86 pages of reference materials including 911 center budgets, governmental audits and previous contracts.

On May 19, Carter and Morgan sent back a response, which addressed two of Porterdale’s concerns and reiterated that Porterdale could sign the intergovernmental agreement and continue to have the 911 center provide emergency dispatch services or it could choose to provide its own dispatch services as a city. After receiving the May 19 letter Foxworth was upset.

“You told us to put our concerns in writing and we did and it cost us money to do that. Why don’t you want to meet with Porterdale? You didn’t answer any of our questions. This is a slap in the face to Porterdale … this is what I think of the contract,” Foxworth said as he tore the intergovernmental agreement in pieces. “We want answers or we won’t agree. You want to cut us off? We’ll see what happens.”

After Foxworth’s speech, District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming, whose district contains Porterdale, asked for a work session with all the parties involved. Fleming said he was concerned because he was not aware of the May 19 letter sent to Porterdale by Carter and Morgan.

“I did not get the (May 19) letter until an hour before the meting Tuesday night,” Fleming said during a later interview. “Porterdale sent list of questions, a 100-page book, and I felt it should have been discussed with commissioners and council before response was drafted. I felt the response was the wrong thing to do. It’s pretty simple what Porterdale is trying to do and it’s escalated to a level it didn’t need to get to. Let’s sit down at the table like human beings and work this thing out. This has been going on for three and a half months.”

The 911 center’s budget is around $2.38 million, with $1.25 million being paid through phone surcharges paid by all county residents, leaving $1.13 million which must be paid by Newton County, Covington, Porterdale and Oxford based on the percentage of calls coming from the public safety agencies in those coverage areas. Porterdale’s police department generated 3.42 percent of calls in fiscal year 2008, which would make the city’s cost $35,048.

Oxford signed the intergovernmental agreement earlier this year and will pay $18,282, based on their percentage of calls. Mansfield and Newborn don’t have police or fire departments and will not pay separately because those services are handled by Newton County.

Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby said the city’s unanswered questions concern line items in the 911 center’s budget and other clarifications about the center’s operations. Hamby said he hoped the Tuesday work session would help all parties reach an agreement.

“I hope if everyone can go into meeting with an open mind, sit down and answer these concerns, we can work to a conclusion all parties can live with,” Hamby said.

Morgan said Tuesday’s meeting will be a county work session with the Covinton, Oxford and Porterdale invited as guests. All parties’ attorneys will probably be present and County Attorney Tommy Craig and 911 Center Director Mike Smith will be available to answer questions.