By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY — For the third time in less than a year, New Albany Police Chief Sherri Knight came before the Floyd County Commissioners and asked for 911 funds to help pay salaries and benefits for city dispatchers. And for the third time, she didn’t get the answer she was looking for.
Knight, flanked by New Albany City Attorney Stan Robison and New Albany Fire Chief Matt Juliot, asked the commissioners for $300,000 Tuesday night. In a letter she read and sent to the board, she noted that since city and county residents both pay into the fund, it is only fair that the city be granted its request. The funds would be used to “supplement salaries and benefit expenses” of the 12 city dispatchers, she said.
The commissioners control the 911 fund. Knight’s request died for lack of a motion.
Commissioner Chuck Freiberger said there is currently less than $300,000 in the account so there was no way the request could be granted. The 911 fund receives $40,500 a month.
Commissioner Mark Seabrook said in the last 10 years, funds have been “pretty much” split down the middle between the city and county.
“They probably won’t agree with those figures,” he said.
He also said it is “a waste” for the city and county to each have a dispatch center. In 2011 the city council voted against merging the two centers, despite county officials and then-mayor Doug England being in favor of the move.
Late last year as budgets were being written, Floyd County Police Chief Ted Heavrin, who was president of the Floyd County Council at the time, asked for and received $300,000 in emergency funds from the 911 account to help pay salaries and benefits for county dispatchers. However, the money will only be used as needed on a per-month basis, according to Commissioners’ President Steve Bush. If the money is not all used it will go back into the fund.
Knight said since the county received 911 funds to help pay dispatchers’ salaries, it was only fair for the city to receive the same courtesy. In her letter she states that in 2012, the city spent $678,000 operating the communication center, with salaries and benefits totaling $642,000. She said without 911 funds, money would have to be taken from other areas to cover the expenses.
“We should be able to use that money instead of using other public safety funds,” Knight said.
Both Bush and Freiberger said they granted Heavrin’s request because it was an emergency, even though the 2013 budget had not yet been certified.
“We gave him the monies for one year only,” Freiberger said. “I agree, city residents pay into the fund and we need to be as fair as we can be and I think we have been. Right now we don’t have the monies available.”
Knight first asked for $100,000 in April and $300,000 in July of last year. She said in her letter that she was told by Bush it was policy not to apply 911 funds toward salaries or benefits in July. However, since funds were given to the sheriff’s department for dispatchers’ salaries late last year, she said that “I am now requesting that the commissioners examine an equitable outlay of funds with regards to the shift in former policy.”
Bush said for the last 13 years the city has not paid rent to be on the 911 tower. And in 2004, the county gave the city $500,000 for a dispatch center out of 911 funds.
Robison said after the meeting that New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan would likely meet with county officials to try and work out an agreement on the request.