Funding formula for 911 operations will continue for now, Leyens says

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2002

[02/27/02]After nearly six months of wrangling over the funding formula for Warren County 911 operations, Mayor Laurence Leyens said he’s giving up and the city will continue to fund 70 percent of the budget an amount he continues to call unfair.

“The county and city government working together is more important than the economics of it,” Leyens said. “Although there is no rationale, we will continue to fund it.”

Vicksburg’s three elected officials met with county supervisors Tuesday in another session to improve relations and talk about shared services.

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When the two boards reached a 911 funding agreement for this year three months into the fiscal year, Leyens said the city would pull out if a new agreement was not worked out by March 31.

That changed Tuesday. The two boards also agreed to appoint a new committee to look into the funding formula and make a recommendation back to the 911 Commission. Members will be attorneys for the city and county, budget administrators from both, two private citizens and a representative from May and Company, an accounting firm.

The combined dispatch center for emergency services was created after voters agreed to fund E911 technology through their phone bills 13 years ago. Before 1989, people could dial 911 for help, but calls were relayed to individual agencies.

After creating a central dispatching center and staff, the city and county pledged funds that had been used to pay separate dispatchers to supplement income from phone charges. This year’s 911 budget is up sharply to more than $800,000.

Under the current agreement, the city contributes about $266,724 to 911’s budget and the county funds about $114,310 for dispatchers’ salaries. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said that at that rate, because city residents also pay county taxes, city taxpayers are contributing about $12 per person a year for 911 while county taxpayers spend $2 per person a year.

“I have a serious problem within myself about this because I personally don’t feel that the funding is correct,” Beauman said.

Beauman said that he would only continue to vote in favor of the 911 agreement as long as the city and county continued to work toward a more equitable arrangement.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon said that it was important that city and county officials continue to work through their differences to present a unified community.

“I think the worse thing that could possibly happen is if we start getting negative press,” Selmon said.

When the dispute between the two boards began over 911 and countywide ambulance service, the city had proposed a split based on population, 53.2 percent to the city and 46.8 percent county. In December, Leyens had threatened to stop city ambulances from running in the county and to build a separate dispatch center for the city before settling on the 70-30 split.

Richard George, president of the county board, said that one of the problems with 911 was that commission members and elected officials are not knowledgeable enough about how the system works and its needs.

“All of the members of the commission need to be well informed,” George said. “The 911 commission seems to be more of a bother than a duty to some.”

The 911 center budget is recommended by a seven-member board that includes county and city representatives. The budget is also approved by the board of supervisors which last year increased phone surcharges to the maximum amount allowed by law.