HOUSTON – The City of Houston officially terminated a dispatching contract with the county at the March 3 meeting of the board of supervisors,leading to questions over how the E911 system will absorb the reduction in revenue.
The city orginally solicited the county to dispatch all police calls for the town and elected to open the police department only during daytime hours on weekdays. Under the Feb. 2010 agreement, the city paid the county $100,000 per year, saving over $50,000 for the city. At that time, the police dispatchers were terminated by the city and three were hired by the county to work at E911.
The city aldermen decided not to continue the contract and sent a 60-day notice to the Chancery Clerk’s office in December.
Sheriff Jimmy Simmmons asked the supervisors to request the mayors of all four municipalities attend the board meeting to discuss the ramifications of losing revenue to the system.
Houston Mayor Stacy Parker said the city is not requesting the county services any more.
“We were looking to resource out for cost effectiveness and also 911 needed more personnel to run two (dispatchers) per shift,” Parker said of the original contract. “Things change. We need to do what’s best for our citizens in our town.”
Parker said the city will handle dispatching duties for non-emergency calls in-house.
Supervisors Russell Brooks and Jerry Hall questioned how the city would manage dispatching and said withdrawing from the contract would affect the county’s budget and ability to pay E911 dispatchers.
“You’re coming in the middle of a budget year,” Brooks said.”And we’re going to give your three dispatchers right back to you.”
“We hired three dispatchers to make a more efficient 911 system for all of Houston and the county and it was geared toward Houston,” Hall said. “The decision you’re making will affect their daily lives.”
Parker declined to discuss the city’s plans for dispatching services with the board, saying only the city board had a plan and would handle the service themselves.
Supervisor Russell King said emergency calls should still be dispatched throughout the county by the E911 office.
“Everybody here is tax payers,” King said. “The city pays taxes and we have to take care of them just the same as everyone else.”
Okolona Mayor Louise Cole said she understood the decision based on a economic standpoint.
“We all have to crunch numbers,” Cole said. “But am I correct in undderstanding the 911 services are available across the county?”
Parker agreed finance played a large part in the decision and Houston has been the only municipality to pay for dispatching services from E911. In Okolona, the fire department handles dispatching for the town and referral to the designated departments while in Houlka calls are forwarded to City Hall for dispatching. The Town of Woodland has no police officers and relies on 911 services for emergency calls. All emergency calls placed to E911 are dispatched throughout the county to the appropriate department.
Cole said the City of Okolona can’t afford to pay $100,000 annually as Houston did, but she urged supervisors and municipalities to work together for a resolution and an effective E911 department.
“What can our four cities do to make it work?” Cole asked. “To get this worked out, we need to work together.”
Following an executive session, Hall moved to accept the letter from the City of Houston that ended their contract with the county. King seconded the motion and it passed with all in favor.