Thursday, September 15, 2005

Holly Springs aldermen hear county’s requests

Staff Writer

Marshall County officials met with the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen last week to press for financial help with E-911, the airport authority and a comprehensive solid waste management plan.

Larry Hall, county administrator, and Irene Harris, director of Enhanced-911, told aldermen they want the city to pay the salaries for four more E-911 dispatchers to cover the dispatch calls it handles for police, fire and emergency services in the city. It takes four dispatchers to operate a 24/7 shift, Hall said. The 911 dispatch is operating now with eight dispatchers, Harris said.

Marshall County E-911 handles the call from beginning to end, rather than passing it off to an agency.

E-911 commissioner Joe Winfield, in a separate interview, said Enhanced-911 service was authorized by a referendum vote in November 1991. Since voters chose Enhanced-911, dispatchers stay with an emergency call from start to finish, he said. Regular 911 dispatch transfers the call to the appropriate agency with just a push of a button, he said.

Harris told the board of aldermen that 911 dispatch also handles the log books for the city on calls it receives, including missing and stolen vehicle reports.

Mayor Andre’ DeBerry noted that city residents pay county taxes for those services.

Supervisor George Zinn III argued that the city had paid $75,000 a year for two years in the 1990s, but then stopped contributing to E-911.

DeBerry replied that the city pays fees for its inmates housed at the jail and pays booking fees that bring in revenues to the county.

“Why is it we pay (county) tax dollars and come back and get assessed?” he asked.

Hall said that telephone bill collections for 911 had generated money for the service, but that cell phone use has replaced many home telephone lines resulting in decreased collections.

Winfield said fees collected by telephone companies were enough to cover the costs of 911 service for many years but costs to maintain E-911 have escalated over the years beyond what telephone fees bring in.

Harris explained that county taxes cover 911 dispatch, not 911 service.

DeBerry argued that one-fourth of the residents in the county live in the city and pay county taxes for the service.

“When do the tax payers start getting a portion of what they are assessed for?” he asked.

Hall said the county’s help in replacing the Chulahoma Avenue bridge was a return in service as well as the city’s use of the county jail for its inmates.

DeBerry replied that the Holly Springs Fire Department responds in the county which is a service the city renders to the county.

Don Hollingsworth noted that when E-911 was set up, recording equipment for the start up was donated to E-911 by Holly Springs Utility Department.

Harris said many equipment changes have taken place since 911 was set up in the county.

“I’m sure what you pay in tax contributes to our salaries but not enough,” she said. “We are not asking the city to pay all dispatch but to contribute more to dispatch for salaries.”

She said the salaries of the eight dispatchers working now come out of her budget.

“I really don’t think it’s fair,” she said.

Fire Chief Ken Holbrook explained that the city helped 911 service get up and going, that revenues from telephones were not sufficient at the time and therefore the city paid $75,000 to offset costs until telephone collections kicked in.

Holbrook asked if the county sets aside millage.

“We all agree the cost of maintaining 911 is not what it used to be,” Zinn said.

DeBerry said the issue is who bears the cost of paying for the service.

“It’s you as an individual in the city paying for 911,” said Hall. “And we get some questions from people living outside the city when they are generating funds for arrests (fees the city collects at municipal court as a results of dispatch availability to the police department).”

DeBerry noted that Holly Springs provides services through utilities to other cities and areas which he argued was a type of sharing of resources.

Holbrook explained that Byhalia opted to provide its own dispatch service because emergency calls to Holly Springs would be long distance to residents of the Byhalia area.

Hall moved on to the issue of the airport authority which was turned back to Marshall County recently from the county Industrial Development Authority. He said the county board wants the Holly Springs to split the cost of maintenance at the airport if it receives representation on the airport commission.

Alderman Nancy Hutchens said she felt the city should participate.

“I think that’s something we need to look at because in time, if we grow, that will be city,” she said.

Alderman Russell Johnson agreed the airport will be important to the city in the future.

“It’s not just maintaining it, it is an asset,” said Hutchens. She suggested that the city board discuss the matter with IDA director Bill Renick.

“I agree, but they have already passed it on (to us),” Hall said.

Hall brought up his last issue - the question of the City of Holly Springs including itself in the Marshall County Solid Waste Plan.

Alderman Hutchens motioned for the city to participate in the county’s solid waste plan and Liddy seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

The city board agreed to consult with Bill Renick on the airport issue and to give the county an on the issue of supporting dispatch service by Thursday, Sept. 15, the deadline for the city to adopt its fiscal year 2005-06 budget.

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