The Hamburg City Council declined to approve a dispatcher services contract from the county government at the council’s meeting last week.
The members of the council told the mayor they needed to do more research before agreeing to pay $55,000 a year to the county for a dispatcher.
In a previous meeting of the Ashley County Quorum Court, Justice Jeff Langley said the $55,000 is the cost of one dispatcher’s salary and benefits. At the city council meeting May 28, Hamburg Mayor Dane Weindorf said the city had an agreement years ago to pay $18,000 a month to the county, but that amount has escalated over time. Complicating the matter was that an agreement has never been made in writing.
In counseling the aldermen, City Attorney Paul Keith told them to look at the total cost.
“To pay the cost of a dispatcher might be a bit excessive for the city because the city doesn’t require the services of a full-time dispatcher,” Keith said.
Keith said the original agreement also included the cost of five beds that the city could use at the county jail.
“That’s important to the city because when the city police arrest someone and take them to the jail, if they are arrested on a felony, the city has to pay their per day rate until the prosecuting attorney actually charges them with a crime,” he said.
Keith told the council that in order to understand what services the county was providing, the council would need to understand the difference in the types of calls that are dispatched and how they are categorized.
The city attorney said there are certain dispatched services that the Ashley County Sheriff’s Office is required to make as the 911 call center for the county and that those services are reimbursed by the state.
“And within the last legislative session, the legislature actually imposed an additional tax on landline bills and on cell phone bills to increase what the state will be paying for 911 dispatch services,” Keith said.
He said, however, there are other dispatch services that are necessary that are “non-911 dispatch” calls. Essentially all of the communication after the initial 911 call is considered “non-911 dispatch.”
“Every time our officers say, ‘10-4,’ that counts as one click,” Weindorf said. “The first four months of this year we had 3,700 clicks.
“Our police department, our fire department, our ambulance — the sheriff’s office talked to them 3,700 times.”
Weindorf said that Hamburg averages 900 clicks per month and that the sheriff’s office reported that the county — communicating with county officers alone — makes 2,700 clicks per month, making Hamburg only 16 to 18 percent of the call volume.
One of the council members brought up the ongoing ambulance discussion between the county and Hamburg.
Both governing bodies have been debating whose responsibility it is to provide ambulance services outside the Hamburg city limits — as the city currently does — and one of the council members pointed out that some of the same principles are in play.
City Clerk Peggy Akers said that county residents have told her they don’t feel they should have to pay anything for the ambulance because they pay Hamburg sales tax. Akers said that if that same logic is applied to the dispatch situation, then city residents pay county taxes.
“I heard one of the court members tell us that it really doesn’t cost you any more to go county because those people are there anyway, and it’s a two-edged sword,” Weindorf said.
“Those dispatchers are there whether they dispatch us or not.”
Councilwoman Derinda Stanley said that she didn’t feel the council could make a decision on the dispatch contract without more information.
“That means we need to have a meeting with them, and say we can not come to a decision until we get all the facts,” Stanley said.
Stanley said the council needed to see all of the sources of revenue that the county has, including the 911 income, and all of the expense of a dispatcher.
Keith suggested that the council do some research and collect more data before setting the meeting.
“Until you have in hand the information that Mrs. Stanley has talked about, you can’t have a fruitful and informed discussion,” Keith said.
The council members agreed that more research would need to be done on the cost of dispatch service, the 911 income received from the state, and other factors before any decisions could be made.
Keith said he would write a letter from the council requesting all of the information that the council feels is needed to make an informed decision.
In other news:
-The council approved that $16,028 be moved from the capital improvement fund for supplemental funding for the new fire station.
Weindorf said there was money in the budget that could be used, but he wanted to use budget money to put equipment in the fire station.
Stanley asked what specifically the $16,028 was needed for.
“It’s just different little changes, every time you change and put a window in it’s $1500; so, it’s just little stuff that you don’t anticipate or something that goes bad,” Weindorf said.
-The council gave the mayor permission to start looking for two used trucks. Weindorf said the city needed to purchase a truck for the water department and something for the dog catcher. The current dog catcher truck is being used to spray for mosquitos.
-Weindorf told the council he would soon need to purchase a tractor-attachment side arm because the city is mowing ditches to aid with mosquito prevention.
The mayor said the ditches have been so wet residents haven’t been able to mow them so the mayor said the city would be assisting.