Commission signs contract with E-911

Published 9:19 am Friday, December 2, 2011

After months of negotiations, the Crenshaw County Commission entered into a contract with the E-911 board to handle non-emergency dispatch services for the county for the next nine months.

County attorney Levi Nichols said he received a proposed contract from attorney Mark Ryan, a Baldwin County attorney who specializes in E-911 law.

Under the terms of that contract, the county will pay $53,000 per year in quarterly installments. Because E-911 is housed in the county’s EMA building, rent would be charged at $750 per month, bringing the cost to the county down to $44,000 per year, or $11,000 per quarter.

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The contract is also nine months in length, ending at the end of the current fiscal year.

The decision to enter into the contract didn’t come without several hours of discussion between the Commission and E-911.

Last week, Commissioner Merrill Sport held an informal meeting with law enforcement and representatives from local municipalities, where he proposed an alternate plan where the city of Luverne would cover non-emergency dispatching for the county, the city of Brantley during off hours, and Dozier.

Those officials voiced their support for the plan, and said they would work with the city of Luverne.
E-911 Director Scott Stricklin said that moving non-emergency dispatches from E-911 may cause other changes and a heavier load for Luverne.

“Because it cuts funding so bad, I don’t know that we will be able to maintain radio systems,” he said. “Without that funding we’re talking about, I don’t know that we would be able to sustain any of that dispatching. It may be that the board decides that if you’re going to take part of it to Luverne, they may wind up with the majority of it.”

He said if that happened, service when a resident dialed 911 wouldn’t be affected.

Commissioner Charlie Sankey also wanted to address the issue of the director’s salary, and he said there have been rumors floating around about an increased amount.

Former E-911 director and current E-911 board member Jennifer McDougald was present at the meeting, and she said that when she was director, she was paid on a salary, but also received an hourly wage for part-time dispatching and filling in when she was needed. However, she said she couldn’t remember the exact figures off the top of her head.

[Editor’s note: McDougald clarified that her salary as director was $27,040. She said she was unsure of the year’s total additional dispatching portion of her salary, which fluctuated according to workload. In the print edition of this story, Stricklin was cited as saying his salary was $40,000, but he clarified that that figure is the combined expense of the director’s position from the fiscal year 2010 (Stricklin was hired in Feb. 2011), which includes retirement, insurance and other benefits. Stricklin said he is not on E-911’s insurance and does not get paid overtime, and his position’s salary is $30,120.]

Much of the discussion also centered around what happened the last time the county tried to consolidate dispatching services to one location.

“It bothers me to think about splitting this up,” said Commissioner Charlie Sankey. “I know what kind of communication problems we had before. I’ve also got a problem with cutting a check that big.

This county will not survive unless everyone works together. We don’t have $44,000 in the budget — it would have to come out of reserves.

“If we do this for one year, then we’ve got another year coming that we’ve got to re-look at,” he continued. “We don’t have the revenue, and we anticipate that going down again. Next year, you’re going to need it again.”

Sport pointed out that the E-911 board could contract with the city of Luverne to handle non-emergency dispatching.

“It was down there and it was not working,” Stricklin said. “No one that’s on the board now was there. The County Commission at the time decided that it could not work the way it was and moved it over here. That’s when I got involved.”

“I was on the [Luverne City] Council when it happened,” Sport said. “The problem was that you had two bosses and two groups of people doing the same function. One group was being paid more. That’s a problem and not a good working environment.”

“We can’t keep going back to the past,” he added. “That’s not what we’re talking about. [Luverne Police Chief Paul Allen] will have to have a chief dispatcher or director. You need to sit with Paul and do that.”

Stricklin said that he views independence from one particular department as an advantage.

“That’s one reason it’s worked so well,” he said. “Right now, Paul is the chief, but what about when he decides to retire? Who will be the chief? If Mayor Joe Rex doesn’t run next time, who will be the mayor? Does he want to take part in that?

“I’m not picking on Luverne for this, but our obligation, our chief concern and the only one we put ahead of anything else is the 911 phone,” Stricklin said later in the meeting. “There is no favoritism. If you put it in a department, it’s going to breed chaos like last time, and that’s not Chief Allen’s or anyone else’s fault.”

Sport made a motion to not accept the proposed $44,000 contract, but it died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Chris West commented that he has heard from people in his district (residents, he said later) that don’t want it to go back to Luverne, and Stricklin said that he has heard the same thing from other personnel.

Stricklin also pointed out that there would be a cost to move equipment to Luverne’s facilities.

“Literally the cost of moving would be thousands upon thousands of dollars,” he said.

The suggestion was made to see if Luverne would be interested in contracting with E-911 to handle non-emergency dispatching, which would also result in a centralization of services.

“Mayor Sport and I talked right before I left last year,” McDougald said. “He is all for the idea. But they are financially comfortable, and his words to me is that y’all are not stable enough for me to pull up and come up there.”

Stricklin said that a move by Luverne would also save the city money for staff and equipment even though they would have to pay an increased amount to E-911 under contract.

A motion was made to accept the provided contract, and it passed with a 4-1 vote. Sport was the only dissenting vote.

“Your meeting was very productive, and I think everyone in that room would do exactly what they told you they’d do,” Sankey said to Sport.

“I did what I said I was going to do — gave you a Plan B,” Sport said. “We’ve got a year to figure out how to do it.”

However, Sport also said that he felt like his efforts were worthless, but others said that they felt like his work opened the door for communication and a long-term solution.

In other business, Nichols informed the commission that the Department of Justice had accepted the proposed redistricting plan for the county.

“The attorney general doesn’t object to the changes, but that doesn’t stop them from coming back later and reviewing it further,” he said. “We’re still in good shape on that.“

The commission also heard a suggestion from EMA director Jessica Seabrook to make the switch to WeatherWarn software.

The software would allow sirens within the severe weather polygons issued by the National Weather Service to sound as opposed to those across the county.

For example, if a warning was issued for Highland Home, sirens in Brantley wouldn’t sound, Seabrook said.

The system would also allow for automatic sounding of sirens, whereas currently someone must be at the EMA office.

The cost to upgrade to the system would be $13,800.

No action was taken on the matter.