ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee told commissioners Wednesday he didn’t see how he can justify renewing the county’s $175,000 contract with Hawkins County Central Dispatch.
However, there are far-reaching consequences of not renewing that contract. Aside from the effect on state funding that results from cutting maintenance of effort, every police, fire and rescue agency in the county would have to hire its own dispatchers.
Although Hawkins County Central Dispatch (HCCD) and Hawkins County E-911 duties are conducted in the same facility by the same employees, they are funded separately and are not mutually exclusive.
How does HCCD and 911 funding work?
Hawkins County E-911 is funded by the state through a telephone landline fee of $1.16 per month per line, which amounts to about $736,000 annually.
That pays for the 911 equipment and for staff to answer calls. Regardless of what the county does, that service will remain in place.
HCCD receives a $175,000 annual contribution from Hawkins County, which pays for the dispatchers who radio the 911 calls directly to police, fire, rescue, and ambulance responders.
If there were no HCCD, the 911 emergency calls would be transferred to each agency.
It would then be the responsibility of that agency — whether it be a rescue squad, volunteer fire department, Hawkins County EMS, the sheriff’s office, or city police and fire departments — to answer that transfer, then dispatch that emergency out to the actual responders.
A pending HCCD mutual aid contract with Hawkins County is awaiting Lee’s signature.
How the contract affects state funding
Hawkins County 911 was established via county referendum in 1993.
At that time, the county commission decided to consolidate all dispatching and created HCCD to answer 911 calls and dispatch emergencies to the responders.
That HCCD mutual aid contract lays out the responsibility of dispatchers, as well as the county’s $175,000 obligation to HCCD, which is funding that falls under state maintenance of effort guidelines.
Aside from jeopardizing HCCD’s ability to dispatch, cutting that $175,000 contribution could also result in a state funding reduction.
Although the contract has already lapsed, HCCD funding for the 2018-19 fiscal year has already been approved.
However, the contract must be signed for HCCD’s funding to continue on July 1.
Lee can’t justify HCCD’s $175,000
During Wednesday’s quarterly meeting of the commission’s Public Safety Committee, Lee hinted that he might not be inclined to sign the HCCD mutual aid contract.
During HCCD Director Gay Murrell’s report to the committee Wednesday, she noted that she was asked to bring a copy of the proposed contract, but she didn’t know why.
Committee member Mike Herrell, who is also chairman of the E-911 Board, said he had given a copy of the contract to Lee, but it hadn’t been signed.
“I thought we should bring it up today because I didn’t want to have a special called meeting if the mayor decides to reject this contract,” Herrell told the panel.
Lee then questioned Murrell about the HCCD budget, noting that expenses have exceeded the amount budgeted for the past several years.
“You’re not a county agency, yet you’re coming to us wanting county funds,” Lee told her.
“My biggest question is, you can’t balance the budget there for several years, but yet you come back and want $175,000 again this year. I don’t see how we can justify that.”
Herrell said he will schedule a special called E-911 Board meeting to discuss the contract.
“If we don’t get this funded, the state’s going to cut also,” Herrell said. “And if it don’t get funded, what are we going to do for the citizens of Hawkins County?”
Who will dispatch if not HCCD?
Murrell said that regardless of whether the Hawkins County Commission funds HCCD, the county will have 911 service.
“There will be people there to answer that phone,” she said. “The state money is here to take care of that. What you possibly could lose is people to dispatch the fire department, law enforcement, EMS and the rescue squads. That’s what that $175,000 pays for. We don’t have to dispatch. We have to answer that 911 call, and the state puts in money for that.”
She added, “If you don’t want to pay, that’s fine. The fire department will have to find somebody to dispatch their calls. They’re going to have to find somebody to answer that phone when we transfer it to them. The sheriff’s department is going to have to find somebody to answer that phone when we transfer it to them. Church Hill Police Department, Mount Carmel, Surgoinsville. That’s going to delay your responses.”
Hawkins County EMS Director Jason Murrell estimated that it would cost his agency more than $100,000 annually if it had to hire staff for its own 24/7 dispatching.
“We’re doing it for $175,000,” Gay Murrell noted. “Are we going in the hole? Some years, yes, we are. This year we did, but we’re making it. Some years we get excess money from the state, and this (past) year we did not. We’ve already received some excess money from the state in 2019, but who’s to say that we’re going to get that next year? But we’re also improving our equipment.”