News and Tribune

September 17, 2013

New Albany to again ask county for 911 funds

County: City should reconsider dispatch merger

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Denied multiple times before, the New Albany Police Department will again ask the Floyd County Commissioners for a regular installment of 911 funds to supplement city emergency operations.

And as before, city officials are likely to be asked why New Albany bucked a merger of dispatch operations that county officials tout could have saved at least $300,000 annually.

NAPD Chief Sherri Knight sent the commissioners a letter stating the city will request today a monthly appropriation of $19,752 that would be used to offset employee salaries and benefits.

“All residents of Floyd County, which include residents in the City of New Albany, contribute to the 911 fund,” Knight stated in her letter, adding that city has been denied 911 funding by the county this year despite requests.

“It is fundamentally unfair to expect individuals to pay fees towards supplementing their public safety operations when none of those monies are appropriated for that purpose.”

Commissioner Steve Bush acknowledged that city residents should see a return for the taxes they pay, but added New Albany could already be saving a sizable chunk of funding annually.

“I think they ought to sit down as leaders and look at merging dispatch, and these conversations wouldn’t be happening,” Bush said.

His sentiments were reflected by Mark Seabrook, president of the county commissioners.

“I think we’re not big into duplicating services and payments,” he said on Monday.

In 2011, the New Albany City Council failed to approve a merger of city and county 911 dispatch operations.

The merger was approved by the county, though the city stood to save more money annually.

Mayor Jeff Gahan was a member of the council in 2011, and he voted against the merger.

The issue was overlapped by the funding debate surrounding the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department, as the county had failed to meet its monetary obligation toward the joint operation for several years when the 911 dispatch center proposal came to the table.

At the time, officials estimated the city and county would pay $577,000 each annually toward a joint dispatch center, as New Albany on average has spent about $800,000 on its 911 operations in recent years.

But some city officials didn’t support the merger because they said the county hadn’t lived up to its end of the bargain for the joint parks department, which was split in 2012.

The county had agreed to pledge $200,000 in 911 funds — which are controlled by the commissioners — to lower the amount the government entities would have to pay for dispatch.

The 911 fund consists of fees paid by cell phone and land line customers. County officials have maintained the fund is primarily for purchasing equipment and footing emergency expenses.

However, Knight contended in her letter to the commissioners that 911 funds have been approved to supplement emergency operations expenses including money for the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department.

Based on population, New Albany residents account for 48.7 percent of Floyd County’s population, Knight said. Thus that percentage of the 911 funds should be appropriated for city emergency expenses, she continued.

“It only seems appropriate that those funds are equitably distributed and fairly shared with all departments that provide emergency services,” Knight said.

The request, however, doesn’t seem likely to be approved by the three member body of commissioners, which denied other proposals by the city for 911 funds over the past year.

Bush and Seabrook said they would still consider merging dispatch centers with the city, but they added there hasn’t been any indication by New Albany officials that they are interested in picking up talks.

“It seems like a territorial thing to me,” Seabrook said.

But on Monday, Gahan said another interlocal agreement isn’t the answer. He referenced the lack of funding from the county for the joint parks department, and Gahan also mentioned the county has failed to fund the New Albany-Floyd County Animal Shelter adequately as based on the  interlocal agreement.

Gahan requested the commissioners hear the request of the city’s public safety departments before admonishing the proposal.

“I’d also remind them of the long history of failed interlocal agreements when county government could not fulfill their obligations and left city residents with the tab,” Gahan said, as he added the funds being requested are fees paid by New Albany residents.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. today at the Pine View Government Center.