Mercer officials discuss division of Enhanced 911 financing

September 14, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG Mercer County's Enhanced 911 system has made great strides in the past few years, but tensions still exist between city and county officials about how the equipment and personnel will be paid for in the future.

Earlier this year, members of the Harrodsburg City Commission said the city could no longer pay for almost all of the dispatching services that it does for other agencies.

"The only way to survive is for every agency to pay," Commissioner Jack Springate said in June. Springate is the elected official who oversees the fire, police and communications departments. "We're very serious about that. We can't continue this way."

In 2002, the city accounted for 66 percent of the calls, but paid 93 percent of dispatching costs. Mercer County Fiscal Court is the government that must raise any taxes or monthly surcharges on telephone land lines. The court asked Bluegrass Area Development District to study the current system and report on the costs and future needs.


At a meeting Thursday evening in the basement of Harrodsburg Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Shane New of BGADD reported his findings and made suggestions about how the service could be financed. Members of the City Commission, Fiscal Court and the E-911 Advisory Committee were present.

New and John Patterson, state 911 coordinator, suggested the first thing the county should do is at least double the 80-cent monthly surcharge on each land line and they suggested the City Commission endorse that increase to make it more politically palatable.

New said that increase could lower the city's payment of $252,974 to $184,372. However, in the figures he presented, it would leave the other agencies' payments the same as they were in this fiscal year: Fiscal Court, $25,000; Burgin, $2,500; and Mercer Fire District, $4,000.

The surcharge would bring in $182,128 and $50,000 will come from Commercial Mobile Radio Services.

City Commissioner Eddie Long said the city would be more likely to endorse increasing the surcharge if Fiscal Court would increase the amount it pays for dispatching services to more closely represent the percentage of county calls the city handles.

In 2002, Fiscal Court paid $12,500 to the city for handling its calls, which were 23 percent of the total. Figures from central dispatch estimate that if the county paid for 23 percent of the calls, it should contribute $62,554 plus $9,519 - half the cost of the EMS calls. The city currently is paying for all EMS calls, although the city and county split the cost of the service. EMS calls amount to 7 percent of all calls received.

Mercer County Judge-Executive Charles McGinnis, who is battling cancer, was not present at Thursday's meeting and magistrates at the meeting did not reply to Long's suggestion and made no statement of their intent to fund the dispatching calls in the future.

No one at the meeting suggested there be two dispatch centers, one for the city and another for the county and emergency calls. On the contrary, the two governments were urged to leave it much as it is. "'We'll just do this on our own' would be unfortunate," New said. He and Patterson said the local dispatch center had updated its equipment over the last two years.

"You have made an amazing transfer," Patterson said. "You have gone from behind to ahead of the curve." The equipment and the location of the dispatch center at the Harrodsburg Police Department should stay the same, although the men urged a new board hire and fire dispatchers and a 911 coordinator to oversee the equipment and work toward getting grant money to help pay the costs.

Toward the end of the meeting, David Weber, Mercer County coordinator of the Emergency Management Agency, pleaded with the elected decision makers to work together.

"Keep this on a friendly basis," he said. "Don't split up communications; keep talking."

New and Patterson said there is a need to hire two more dispatchers so that there will be at least two on duty at all times. Patterson said local governments have no say in setting the surcharge on wireless phones, now 35 cents per line per month. Two years ago there were practically no wireless calls into Central Dispatch. In 2002, 1,228 cellular phone calls came into the communications department.

New said there was a way to pay the $450,000 annual budget and not cost the separate entities that use the communications system: raise the monthly land-line surcharge to $3.48. Mercer County Attorney Douglas Greenburg said the communications treasury would gain $1,100 for each cent the surcharge is raised.

Commissioner Joe Hood narrowed it to each line's charges. "For 11 cents a day, every telephone customer in the county could have 911 service."

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