Mayor thinks Sharp County residents should pay the bill
Cherokee Village Mayor Ray Maynard wants Sharp County residents to foot the bill for the shortfall in the county's central dispatch center.
"If the people want 9-1-1 then they need to fund it," said Maynard at a Sept. 29 meeting at the courthouse with Judge Joe Stidman, Sheriff Dale Weaver and other county mayors to discuss possible funding solutions.
Maynard suggested the county ask voters to increase the 9-1-1 fees implemented on phone bills from 5 percent to 12.5 percent. Stidman said he paid 63 cents in fees on a recent phone bill under the current rate.
The dispatch center's budget is estimated at $219,125. The county's 9-1-1 surcharge fees is estimated to generate $89,250. The county needs help in generating the $129,875 left unfunded.
Stidman, with the backing of the quorum court, proposed that the cities contribute funds annually for the services based on the formula used by the Arkansas State Treasurer's office to distribute sales tax receipts.
Based on the formula, the county would pay $59,937.31. Cherokee Village would pay $29,130.96. Cave City would pay $14,299.24. Highland would pay $7,402.88. Hardy would pay $5,519.69. Evening Shade would pay $3,532.60. Sidney would pay $2,090.99. Williford would pay $480.54. The ambulance services would not be charged because the fees will be passed on to ambulance customers who are already taxed for the service, Stidman said. Plus, it could keep residents who need an ambulance from using it in fear of a high bill.
"I can see helping you with some of this, but I don't know about all that money," Maynard said. "The simple fact is there's not that much money floating around."
"The county's share is $59,000. Is there a fairer way?" Stidman asked.
Cave City Mayor Carl Johnson also had concerns with his city's part of the funding and the use of central dispatch services.
Since the police department has a small dispatch system in place, officers don't use the system as much as other departments, he said. If the city council would agree to Stidman's proposal, the council would most likely get rid of their own system, he said.
"Most of the things we are using up here is traffic ---- you know, the regular daily work," said Johnson, who said most of the calls for Cave City through the county are deputies requesting assistance of city officers. "I don't think my council will have any problem helping ---- it's the formula."
Johnson said the county has collected more than $16,000 so far this year from fines associated with citations and arrests made by Cave City officers. Although the county collects those funds, the cities aren't charged for housing and processing inmates, a service the county alone assumes financially, Stidman said.
"I'm not prepared to argue anything. This is just the facts," Stidman said.
According to Sharp County Treasurer Wanda Girtman, Highland pays $7,100 each year to the county for central dispatch services. Hardy paid $575 and Cherokee Village Suburban Improvement District paid $2,500 in 2002, she said. Maynard said the city contributed $6,000 for dispatch service one year, although he didn't remember what year.
Highland Mayor David Shackelford said he is for helping the county according to Stidman's proposal, which would mean an increase of just over $300 a year for the city.
Shackelford said residents are already paying taxes to the cities. If the cities can work together and use some of that money to help fund the center they won't need to approach the taxpayers for an increase in fees.
Maynard brought up the possibility of Fulton and Sharp counties joining forces and establishing a central dispatch center to serve both counties. Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said his county budget for dispatch is less than $90,000 annually, according to Maynard.
When the county first began talks of moving the centralized dispatch center to the jail, residents were told that it would save the county money, Maynard said.
"Now we've made this move and we're not seeing the savings," he said.
Sheriff Weaver is in charge of the dispatch center. Weaver tried to cut back on staff and have jailers fill in as dispatchers, but stopped because it didn't give residents reasonable service, Stidman said.
"There's times where it's slow, but most of the time our dispatchers are busy," Weaver said. "The 9-1-1 calls make up very little of what the dispatchers are about over there."
Dispatchers not only answer 9-1-1 calls, but also communicate on the radio channels with police, fire and ambulance personnel. They also perform checks for warrants, prior criminal history, driver's license checks and license plate checks.
Two dispatchers are assigned to both the first and second shifts. One dispatcher works during the third shift.
"We've been trying to get by the cheapest we can," Weaver said, but expenses are expected to increase.
The sheriff is hoping to improve the system to allow dispatchers to identify the location of callers using cellular phones, which constitutes approximately 39 percent of the center's incoming calls. When residents of the area replace their home phone with a cellular phone or dispose of a computer phone line for DSL, the county isn't able to collect the 911 fees. The county is working to establish a funding mechanism that will collect 911 fees for cellular users, but as the equipment increases, the maintenance costs also increase.
"If we're going to keep up the service we've got to find a way to fund it," Weaver said. "No one has asked the city to pay a dime on equipment. If the county has got the money to do it, fine. If they don't they're going to have to find a way to fund it."
Stidman said the county is morally obligated to serve not only the residents of the cities, but the entire county.
"The right thing is to serve everyone to the best of our ability and that's what we're doing with or without your help," Stidman said. "Central dispatch is a vital service for all of our public service agencies. There is no question it is a vital need and there is no question it needs to be centralized. We're asking for your help. That's what we're doing."
No representatives from Hardy, Evening Shade or Williford attended the meeting.