Leyens concedes on 911 funding

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2002

[09/13/02]Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens says he will concede the issue of funding for Warren County’s 911 dispatching center and give up his stance that only county tax dollars should be used to supplement the center’s budget.

“We’ve beat this horse to death, and we’ve decided there is no way to come up with a thoughtful solution,” Leyens told supervisors when city and county boards met on shared services Thursday.

Leyens said he is willing to vote to fund 63 percent of 911’s budget supplement without any more debate over the next two years of his administration. That would leave Warren County to pay the remaining 37 percent.

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But that still leaves city and county officials about $26,000 apart on a funding agreement because, supervisors said, they had expected to be tapped only for 30 percent of the supplement.

For this budget year, the two boards debated for five months after the 911 commission recommended the city fund 75 percent of the $381,074 in the center’s budget not provided by telephone surcharges, now at their maximum. A compromise was reached in February with a 70-30 split.

Leyens has said the funding was unfair to city taxpayers who pay both city and county tax levies. Since 911 operates countywide, taxes for the supplement should be raised equally countywide, he said. Supervisors countered, and a study confirmed that since most dispatches are inside the city, it was essentially fair for city residents to pay more.

“We’ve wrestled with this issue for years,” said District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield. “There’s nothing new about that.”

It was that study, commissioned by the city, that concluded a 63-37 split would be about equal to the city paying 70 percent, given that city residents also pay county taxes.

Supervisors countered Thursday that they’ve already set their budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 based on the belief that the issue had already been resolved.

“When we left our last city/county meeting we left feeling that this was a done deal and we could go ahead with our budgets,” said District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale. “You’re not going to be satisfied until the county funds it all.”

The 911 commission has not finalized its budget request for the new year, but based on this year’s request, the difference between the county’s 30 percent and Leyens’ proposed 37 percent would be about $26,687.

The countywide emergency dispatch center created 12 years ago is funded from $1 monthly surcharges for residential and cell phones and $2 per business line. The subsidies from the city and county make up the difference in the $840,107 spending plan.

Leyens also said he has a problem with funding the full request because the 911 budget includes funding for the Warren County road-naming operation. According to state law, road naming can be included in the 911 budget if there are excess funds.

The joint 911 center is operated under an interlocal agreement that must be renewed each year at the start of the fiscal year. Other interlocal agreements include tax collection, tax assessment and ambulance services.