In July 21 IssueBy Kim GrahamTimes Journal Reporter
A proposed Enhanced 911 Organizational Restructure made its way to a second governing entity this week when Deputy Judge-Executive Chris Ramsey presented the plan at the Russell Springs City Council meeting Thursday evening.
"What I'm here to discuss really is the essential need of the service of 911 and the desire of the county judge's office and the Russell County Fiscal Court to keep (dispatch) here in Russell County," said Ramsey. "In order to do that, we do need assistance financially, a partnership with not only the City of Russell Springs, the ambulance service, the City of Jamestown and (Russell County Fiscal Court) as well coming together and working as a community."
Ramsey told the council he was seeking input from both cities on the proposed restructure and once again, the county is requesting $25,000 to assist in funding 911 Dispatch for the next year.
"This is exploratory, again, the first option that (the fiscal court) would really love is to see (911 Dispatch) here in Russell County," Ramsey said. "Due to our financial crunch, we can't bear the burden by ourselves this year."
Russell Springs Mayor Hollis DeHart expressed concern regarding providing the vital service to the community and said he was told long term funding options will be explored.
"(911 Dispatch) is a crucial, operational part of government and we have to have this, I understand that," DeHart said. "But I have been assured that we're going to be working more on finding better ways of funding the system than this present way."
Just as last year when this issue was addressed, Mayor DeHart had apprehension about contributing money from the city's coffers to a service he says his constituents are already funding with county and city taxes.
"One of the things that concerns me is that it costs city residents more for ambulance service than it does for county residents," said Mayor Hollis DeHart. "It's actually a double taxation."
Long term funding solutions are essential to maintaining Russell County Dispatch during tough economic times when the city has just enough funding for municipal operations DeHart said.
"We're going to have to look at better ways of financing (911 Dispatch) (the fiscal court) cannot just keep coming back to the cities and getting this money simple because we don't have it," said DeHart. "Everybody in here knows where it came from the last time and as a member of the gas board, I don't know how many more times the gas board will do what they've been doing."
Last October, Lake Cumberland Natural Gas Authority presented the city with a dividend check for $25,000 to cover the city's portion of 911 Dispatch operations for the next 12 months.
Russell Springs City Councilman Eric Selby did an informal poll of citizens to understand their thoughts on the issue of 911 Dispatch in Russell County.
"I spoke to several people in the last couple of days," Russell Springs City Councilman Eric Selby said. "Everybody that I spoke to sure doesn't want it to go out of the county."
Selby agreed the requested contribution is a strain on the city's budget but feared the effect of not agreeing to help fund dispatch would be detrimental to the county.
"Yeah, it's $25,000, that's a whole lot of money right now in one sense, in one sense it's not," Selby said. "…If (dispatch) leaves Russell County it's gone, it won't be back."
"If it comes back, $25,000 three ways plus what the fiscal court's paying won't be a drop in the bucket to what it will cost to get it back."
Selby said he'd spoken to both individual tax payers and business owners in the city who told him to do what's necessary to keep dispatch in the county.
Selby was supported by Councilman Timmy Hudson who said the extra year should be ample time to identify other funding sources.
"I agree with what Eric said - I think if there's any way we can at all, we need to keep (dispatch) in the county," Councilman Timmy Hudson said. "Maybe if we can help (the county) this time that would give them almost a year and a half to get something straightened out to where they can not put a burden on the cities."
Joey Hoover addressed the council with his views and concerns regarding the new restructure proposal.
"I totally agree with Councilman Selby that it would be, in my opinion a travesty if (dispatch) went out of county," said Joey Hoover. "I just don't see the need for that."
Hoover agreed with Mayor DeHart that city residents pay double taxes and raised the question of why the cities and EMS need to contribute to dispatch operation expense.
"Part of the justification just a few months ago for increasing the county payroll tax to 1%, one of the first defenses was to pay for dispatch," Hoover said. "I understand all that money hasn't come in yet but that tax started April first so there's been one quarter and by the time the current agreement expires in October, there'll be a second quarter."
"I just don't understand the argument now of needed the cities and EMS to kick in $25,000, not saying whether any of them can afford it, but I'm pretty certain EMS has difficulty to afford it - obviously they agreed to (contribute $25,000) Tuesday night."
Hoover said the proposal outlines a plan to revamp the 911 Board and LINK Board for the 3rd time in two years while contradicting a current agreement with the state LINK and NCIC board.
"The LINK and NCIC Board current agreement calls for the (local) LINK and NCIC Board to deal with personnel matters," said Hoover. "The proposal is calling for the county judge's office to be more directly involved in those personnel matters."
"That's not going to be a good marriage because of the current agreement."
Ramsey addressed Hoover's concerns saying nothing is set in stone in the proposal and that the fiscal court would make sure the restructure is in compliance with all state laws.
He said the city councils and EMS board would also have to agree with the specifications of the restructure.
Questioning management of 911 Dispatch funds, Hoover said dispatch has recently spent more than was budgeted monthly for operations.
"At last month's (fiscal court) meeting it was brought out that currently dispatch is operating about $3,000 over budget each month the last few months," said Hoover who asked Ramsey for confirmation of the statement.
Ramsey said he wasn't sure of the specific amount without verifying it but he said he was aware of a "budgetary shortfall" in dispatch operations.
Councilman David Blakey said he needed more information in order to make a decision regarding contributing city funds to dispatch.
"Before I would agree to something like that, I would like to get some kind of an estimate of how much tax money (the fiscal court) is taking in…and why they actually need that money from (the City of Russell Springs)," said Councilman Blakey.
One additional year of funding support from the City of Russell Springs will be the limit for Mayor DeHart.
"October the 14th of 2012 you'll find me totally opposed to the City of Russell Springs making another contribution," Mayor DeHart said. "I'm reluctantly agreeing to (the proposal) now, very reluctantly."
An opinion of the necessity to identify long term funding sources prevailed in discussion of the future of 911 Dispatch.
"They've got several months now to get something in plan and we don't need to be coming back and the council hearing it or the citizens in the community hearing it every year," Councilman Eddie Thomas said. "We need to try to get something long term done before (the deadline) comes back again."
With continued wariness, Councilman Blakey made a motion to table the issue until more information could be reviewed by the council.
No one seconded the motion.
Councilman Selby made a motion to approve 911 Dispatch funding another year which was seconded by Councilman Thomas.
In a five to one vote, the council approved funding $25,000 to 911 Dispatch with an opposing vote from Councilman Blakey.
The Council went into Executive Session in accordance with KRS 61.810 (1)(b) to discuss future acquisition or sale of property.
Once back in session, The council voted unanimously in favor of a 20 year lease with another 20 year lease option on the property between the Russell Springs branch of the Russell County Library and The Springs Diner on Main Street to Roger and Lynna Back, owners of the diner. The Backs plan to build outside café seating in the space.
The council also unanimously approved surveying the 24 acre property behind the maintenance building.
In other business:
o Matt DeHart presented the 2nd Reading of Russell Springs Comprehensive Plan Ordinance 11-08 to update Russell Springs' Comprehensive Plan. The Council voted unanimously to accept the ordinance.