August 19, 2004

City, County Can Not Reach Agreement On Dispatching

The City of Memphis and Scotland County appeared to have reached an impasse on the dispatching services for local law enforcement. At a special meeting between the two governing bodies held August 16th at the Courthouse, the two sides met to discuss a recent rate hike for the services.

The Scotland County Commission had notified the city back in July that the county would be raising the rate charged for providing dispatching services for the city police department from $15,000 to $30,000 per year.

Members of the city council met with commissioners Roger Riebel and Dean Childress on Monday evening prior to the city’s budget hearing to try to renegotiate the fee.

“It is awfully difficult for the city to see a 100-percent increase in this charge here just two months before we have to put a budget together,” stated Alderman Ron Gardner.

Gardner asked the commission if the county would consider lowering the increase or installing it over an extended period of time, possibly three years.

Riebel indicated that the county would not negotiate the rate increase or the payment structure, indicating the city would have to pay $30,000 per year to continue to have the sheriff’s department dispatch for the police department.

Mayor Ron Alexander noted that the city had other options to consider. He told the commissioners that the city was considering having the water plant employees on second and third shift serve as dispatchers for the police department.

“Come September 1st when rural water switches over to Rathburn, we are going to have some flexibility with that workforce, which could allow us to do this,” Alexander said. “We have to utilize our people. They did it before, taking care of both jobs.”

Alexander pointed out that the loss of rural water customers was going to have an economic impact on the city, making it important to maintain a tight budget.

He pointed out that not only was this decision going to force the city to make alternate plans for service, but ultimately it was going to cost the county $15,000 that the city had been paying the past 12 years.

“If we pull away from the negotiations, not only are you not getting the $15,000 price increase you ask for, but you’ll be losing the $15,000 the city was already paying you.”

Prior to the decision, county clerk Betty Lodewegen presented an annual price analysis for the dispatching service dating back to 1993. The current agreement had been in place since September of 1992.

Since 1993 the payroll costs alone for the county to provide 24-hour dispatching service had risen from $51,772 to $98,548 in 2003. The city had paid a flat annual rate of $15,000 over that period.

The county pays $7.77 an hour to full-time dispatchers.

Lodewegen also pointed out that the city would be looking at an added cost of $40,000 per year if it were to hire its own dispatchers to cover the hours beyond the shift currently manned by office manager Ki Reese.

Alexander pointed out that the city would not be out any additional cost if the light plant employee was also placed in charge of dispatching.

Following the joint meeting, the city council met for a special budget review. During the session, the council voted 4-0 to terminate the dispatching agreement with the county and to provide the service with city personnel.

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