August 26, 2009 10:58:00 AM
Columbus-Lowndes E-911 could lose a dispatcher if the Columbus City Council goes forward with plans to cut funding to the service from $80,000 to $40,000.
The council Monday approved the reduced contribution, and E-911 representatives say it''s a loss they can''t afford to take.
The cut would come out of employee salaries, said Beverly Broocks, chairwoman for the Columbus/Lowndes E-911 commission.
If the city of Columbus, which shares funding responsibilities for E-911 with Lowndes County, proceeds with the cut, one of the Columbus dispatchers would be out of a job.
"The city receives well over 60 percent of 911 services," explained Broocks. "A substantial cut (in funds) might result in staffing cuts for persons dispatching city services. We can''t ask the county to lose a sheriff''s dispatcher to pay for a city police dispatcher."
The funding cut is not finalized, and E-911 will have an opportunity to appear before the council Sept. 8 to provide its budget request.
The E-911 appropriations cut came after the council approved more than $27,000 in appropriations increases to the Columbus Arts Council, the Columbus Council on Aging, the Golden Triangle Agency on Aging and the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market.
Council members have not said the budget cut will stand, but the city is seeking to trim hundreds of thousands of dollars from its 2010 budget.
Part of the reason E-911 saw its funding cut Monday while others saw appropriations increases is because no E-911 representatives appeared at the council''s meeting to provide a budget request.
"They weren''t at the meeting to defend their request or ask for an increase. (If E-911 representatives had been present) we could have at least asked questions," said Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin.
Broocks and Sheri Fancher, E-911 director, said they were not notified of the meeting, which was a special work session.
Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong maintains he notified Broocks and Fancher of the meeting.
"I was under the impression they would be there. There was a miscommunication between us, obviously," said Armstrong.
Each of the groups receiving funding increases from the board were represented in person at the meeting.
Although members were clearly dismayed by E-911''s absence, Gavin says the council''s decision to cut E-911 funds was not a form of punishment.
"Someone made the motion (for the cut), and it got voted on. We were just at a point where we were having to move on with what we were having to do," he said. "I fully expect them to come back and ask for that money to be reinstated. To be honest, I think it will be reinstated."
But E-911 plans to ask for more than its old budget.
The computer software currently in use by E-911 is nearly obsolete and an upgrade could cost between $25,000-60,000, said Broocks, in addition to the annual $160,000 in operating costs shared by Columbus and Lowndes County.
The proposed software upgrade will provide mapping capability to pinpoint the location of incoming calls and alert the nearest available responders.
While local E-911 is operating safely under its current software, Broocks said the software is no longer supported by vendors and cannot be upgraded or repaired if something goes wrong.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box pointed out that E-911 has not submitted a written budget request for 2010, nor drawn the $80,000 budgeted by the city for 2009.
Fancher explained the 2009 budget money has not been withdrawn because the current funding arrangement has Lowndes County fully funding E-911 and invoicing Columbus for the city''s half at the end of the fiscal year. According to Fancher, Lowndes County will collect the 2009 budget funds from the city in early September.
Thom Geiger commented at 8/26/2009 1:41:00 PM:
Gee, another example of what happens when the godfathers move to exclude citizens from public meetings. David, did you call Ms. Broocks or Ms. Fancher? Hey Bill and Charlie, how about you two? Have either of you tried to talk to the E-911 folks on the phone? Try dialing 9-1-1.
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