E-911 offer accepted

Published 8:20 am Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WINTON – A one-time offer from the North Carolina E-911 Board to purchase needed “public safety” equipment was approved here last week, but the discussion ran deeper than just the matter at hand.

For the short-term, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners opted to take advantage of the state’s offer to set aside up to 50 percent of the county’s $467,000 E-911 fund balance to purchase equipment typically not allowed under the strict guidelines of the fund.

Acting on a motion from Commissioner Ronald Gatling, the board agreed to use the funds to purchase two, fully equipped Dodge Chargers ($56,000 total) for the Sheriff’s Office; an $83,500 radio console for the county’s central communications department and $37,425 worth of pagers for the county’s volunteer fire departments.

That action came after Hertford County Manager Loria Williams explained to the board that as result of state legislation, the state General Assembly is allowing counties to use up to 50 percent of its E-911 fund balance for public safety purposes.

“They allowed that because the eligibility for the fund, prior to this, is very strict,” she said. “That board was run by mostly representatives from the telephone companies and not a lot of local representation. Now there’s more local representation on that board and that gives us more leeway on how we can spend that money.”

Williams said due to the stringent requirements dealing with expenditures from that fund, there was a fairly large reserve built statewide.

“The criteria was so narrow that the counties could only spend it for certain things,” she said. “This year, this year only, they are allowing us to spend up to 50 percent of our funds for public safety purposes. In order for us to take advantage of this one-time opportunity, we have to reserve the funds that you intend to spend and they must be spent by the end of 2012.”

The E-911 fund is built on a 70-cent monthly surcharge added to each telephone number. In Hertford County’s case, their E-911 fund balance grows by approximately $114,000 annually. That money is set aside from the county’s general fund and can only be spent for certain items.

“If there’s anything else that we can purchase by using these funds, we must reserve those funds by June 30 of this year,” Williams stressed. “We can amend the resolution now before you if we see the need to make additional purchases.”

Williams said based upon Hertford County’s E-911 fund balance of $467,000, the county can reserve as much as $233,500 to be expended through this one-time opportunity.

“Do we have other central communication needs at this time,” questioned Gatling.

“We have needs that are eligible at any time under the eligibility requirements of this fund, but that is not the issue here, the issue now is for the non-eligible things you might want to do with this 50 percent funding,” Williams answered.

“With the state going to a change in the E-911 system, as far as communications are concerned, are they going to require each 911 center to have two dispatchers,” inquired Commissioner Curtis Freeman.

“That’s if you have the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, which we do not have at this time, but are looking to add in the future,” Williams said.

“Will this radio console we’re adding with this round of funding bring us up to the CAD level,” Freeman asked.

“No,” replied Williams. “There’s additional equipment needed and system integration to get us to that level. The system integration piece is the addressing system we’re working on with E-911 to get our street addresses cleaned up and in a database that can be integrated into a CAD system.”

“Have we resolved the issue on what direction we’re going with E-911 in the county,” Gatling asked.

“No sir,” Williams answered. “I know there have been several meetings with the sheriff and police chiefs in our municipalities. The reason there are conversations going on right now about whether to centralize (emergency dispatch) or not, it’s our belief that somewhere down the road, the powers that be, the North Carolina E-911 Board, is going to require you to only have one primary answering point. Right now we have three – Murfreesboro, Ahoskie and the sheriff’s department. Each one of those entities receives E-911 money. We’re thinking that down the road they’re going expect us to regionalize, to use the dollars more economically. Down the road they’re only going to fund one primary answering point.”

If that mandate does arrive, Williams said the E-911 money will go to that one answering point, which will be operated by one lead agency. Also, Williams reminded the board that if the county does go to a CAD system, it is eligible for purchase using E-911 funds.

Gatling urged Williams to look for items that could be purchased now that were not previously eligible under E-911 guidelines.

“We won’t have this opportunity again,” Gatling said. “We need to take advantage of this now.”

Williams said of the vehicles and equipment she was recommending for purchase, there remains roughly $58,000 of the 50 percent share that can be used for public safety needs.

“If something else comes to mind after speaking with the sheriff or EMS, I can bring this resolution back for you to amend, but keep in mind that we have no later than June 30 to reserve these funds,” Williams noted.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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