E-911 officials seek increase in surcharges

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Dec. 1, 2000
The fear of losing their last five city dispatchers by the end of January with no way to fund their replacements has Lauderdale County E-911 Commission officials asking the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors for surcharge increases.
Commission Chairman Fred Rogers, attorney Tommy Dulaney and Commission board member Wink Glover addressed supervisors at a work session Thursday.
He said he received a letter from city officials indicating the five remaining Meridian-employed dispatchers may be removed by the end of January.
Rogers said part of the problem is that the Commission will be paying for equipment upgrades for another 2 1/2 years.
Current surcharges are 50 cents for residential lines, 90 cents for commercial lines, $1 for residents' cell phones and $2 for commercial cell phones. E-911 gets all the money from the residential and commercial lines after the BellSouth takes out 1 percent for handling the funds. E-911 gets 70 percent of the cell phone surcharges.
There are more than 29,000 residential lines in the county and almost 9,000 commercial lines, which bring in about $270,000 annually. Cell phone surcharges bring in $120,000. The almost $400,000 income does not meet the Commission's $600,000 annual operating costs without the dispatchers' salaries. Their salaries are an additional $200,000 to $300,000.
Rogers said the income would be enough if the Commission doesn't have to pay for the new equipment and the dispatchers' salaries.
He said he hopes cross-training the dispatchers will allow the Commission to reduce the number of dispatchers they need.
Supervisors don't want to increase the surcharge until they are sure all calls being handled by the dispatchers are emergencies. Commission officials say a high percentage of E-911 calls are placed by people calling the E-911 telephone for other reasons, such as garbage or road complaints. They say they can't regulate the calls because they don't directly supervise the dispatchers. If city or county officials tell dispatchers to handle non-emergency calls, they do.
Smith suggested solving the problem with an interlocal agreement which would mandate both Meridian and Lauderdale County to fund the Commission. The Commission would then hire dispatchers out of those funds who would report to Commission officials rather than to city or county officials.
District 3 Supervisor Craig Hitt, who is on the Commission's board, and District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell were to schedule a meeting with Meridian officials after Thursday's work session to discuss options.
Rogers said Marion's budget is tight and its residents probably generate few of the calls dispatchers handle.
Dulaney said Meridian officials have said they will put police officers on the console until a solution is reached.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.