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City may lose Sharp County dispatch

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some Sharp cities may be cut out from Sharp County Central Dispatch services if they don't pay the county.

"It looks like that's the only alternative we've got," Sharp County Judge Joe Stidman said after the Dec. 12 quorum court meeting.

The county began considering charging cities for the county's central dispatch services months ago to make up a $129,000 shortfall in the central dispatch budget.

For the 2005 budget the county anticipated revenues for central dispatch in the amount of $231,000, with $95,000 from phone company fees, $19,000 from cellular fees and $117,000 provided by the county general fund, leaving a $129,000 shortfall, said Sharp County Treasurer Wanda Girtman.

Chief Deputy Rickey Crook said the 9-1-1 fees on county residents' telephone bills is sufficient to cover one person working one shift of dispatch per day. The problem is that the office requires three shifts, with two dispatchers on two of the shifts and one dispatcher on the shift from midnight to 8 a.m.

The county isn't asking for help with the 9-1-1 services but with the other services the center provides for emergency personnel, such as license plate checks, driver's license checks, name and date of birth checks and criminal history. The cities have not been charged for this service in the past.

At the quorum court's request, Stidman developed a funding formula patterned after the formula used to disburse turnback funds to cities, which is based on population.

"The state statute that pertains to that says that other entities involved can contract with us for a fair fee," he said.

Based on the funding formula, the county is responsible for $59,937.31 (46.15 percent). Cherokee Village was asked to pay $28,861.66 (22.43 percent); Cave City $14,163.94 (11.01 percent); Highland $7,412.77 (5.76 percent); Ash Flat $7,330.07 (5.70 percent); Hardy $5,465.60 (4.25 percent); Evening Shade $3,495.88 (2.72 percent); Sidney $2,067.45 (1.61 percent); Williford $473.63 (.37 percent).

County attorney Larry Kissee is to prepare interlocal agreements between the county and the cities.

To date, Evening Shade has paid $883.15, Cave City has paid $3,574.81 and Williford has paid $120.14, according to Girtman.

Highland paid nearly the full year's amount for 2005, $7,100. Sidney did likewise, Girtman said. The small community with only a fire department paid their entire July turnback check to the county, Stidman said.

"I understand that Hardy agreed to pay for 2006 and not for the last part of 2005. That's fine. We'll take all the help we can get," Stidman said.

The Ash Flat City Council agreed to pay the balance at its Dec. 16 meeting at the advice of Kissee, who also serves as Ash Flat city attorney.

Mayor Brien Nix Hall supported the council's decision, but said he was a little uneasy about the agreement with the county.

"I would feel more comfortable if in the budget process in dispatch to allow one representative from the cities to have equal say on that budget," Hall said, adding that the county could raise the budget for the center and leave the cities footing the bill.

While some cities jumped on board with Stidman's proposal, others did not. Cherokee Village paid the sheriff's office $606 with a notation that the check is for the city's portion of ACIC fees, Stidman said.

"Whoever chooses not to participate, I guess we'll just cut them off," Stidman said.

Stidman said the effect on the cities will be felt.

"It would have a big impact on them unless the cities set up their own dispatching system," he said. "We would still answer 9-1-1 calls, but only those."

Cherokee Village Mayor Ray Maynard said he has not heard from the county regarding the Jan. 1 cutoff for service.

"I haven't received official notice that we wouldn't have service if nothing has been paid," he said. "We do have several plans in the works."

At the Dec. 15 council meeting Maynard said that a program could be installed in each police car for dispatch, or the city could also contract with Fulton County.

"There's plenty of options out there and we're just exploring them all. To me it's unreasonable to expect Cherokee Village, because we're bigger or have money, to pay four times what somebody else pays," he said, adding that the city's amount of traffic from dispatch isn't much more than other local departments.

JP Darrell Kehrli said the cities should be obligated to pay the county since they receive state turnback funds.

"We're not obligated to provide central dispatch for a city that has a police department and receives funding," Kehrli said.

Although Stidman said he has welcomed alternative ideas for solutions, he has heard only one.

"I've invited them to propose other ideas and it seems the only one they have mentioned is a tax," he said. "We've got enough taxes. It's not fair for people in the county to pay more than incorporated areas with more people."

Stidman said he doesn't think the county could impose another tax for 9-1-1 according to the communication act of 1985.

"We have a decision to make and they have a decision to make," he said. "I don't think the quorum court will give in."

The court unanimously agreed to upgrade the county's voting system.

The county will receive 22 touch screen voting machines, 25 handicap accessible voting machines and a scanner for absentee voting.

The new machines will make the elections 100-percent paperless at the polls, County Clerk Tommy Estes said.

The machines will be disbursed according to population in each precinct, Estes said. For every 200 voters, the precinct will receive one machine.

The machines typically cost $2,850 for a touch screen machine and $3,060 for a handicap accessible, Estes said.

The machines will be paid for by federal funds set aside strictly for upgrades in voting procedures. In fact, the county will have $9,432 left over to purchase additional software and hardware for the machines, Estes said.

The county received a $20,000 grant to fund a feasibility study for a natural gas extension from near Highway 58 at Cave City north to other parts of the county.

The late Judge Harold Crawford began working for the grant in 2002 and again in 2004. The grant had not been awarded to the county until recently, Stidman said.

The court agreed to contribute $4,500 to the Cave City School District for a Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs program, $4,500 to the Sharp County Conservation office for a 4-H camp led by county Extension agent Joe Moore and $835.31 to the Highland School District for its hunter safety program.

Moore made his presentation for his use of the funds at the Nov. 14 meeting. Ed Turnbough, a sixth grade science teacher from Cave City, made his presentation to the court at the Dec. 12 meeting. Williford can no longer participate in the Sharp County program since its consolidation with Oak Ridge Central in Ravenden Springs, JP Bartus Allen said.

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