Is your county fiscally fit for 'Next Generation' 911?
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Noon to midnight, two dispatchers are available to take 911 calls in Sequatchie. All other hours, a dispatcher is solo.
All to handle 700-800 calls per month, for 11 police and fire agencies.
"We had to cut costs," director Mike Twitty says. "We've given up five phone lines, we've had to give up our business cell phones. We've had to cut four employees."
According to the Comptroller's audit for the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (TECB), Sequatchie County's 911 District spend at least $224,074 more than it's taken in over the past three years.
Higher stress has been the price to get out of financial distress.
"They're pulling twelve-hour shifts and they're overwhelmed," Twitty says. "Over a period of time, dealing with these kinds of issues, dispatchers are suffering burnout."
If dollars told the whole story, Hamilton County would appear to be even more pinched. The Comptroller says it overspent $3.312 million the past three years, much of it to upgrade to 'Next Generation 911.'
"They've bought a large amount of equipment," says Andy Spears, Director of Governmental & External Affairs for the TECB. "But Hamilton County is an incredibly well managed district, very strong financial position, very healthy fund balance."
Reserves total $11 million. Nevertheless, two years of overages put Hamilton County on the Comptroller's 'at risk' list. And the clock is ticking for Sequatchie County.
"My fear with Next Generation is all kinds of problems with training," Twitty says. "We need eight to ten people to handle all the upgrades that come with digital mapping. We have six."
It fairly begs the question; if the TECB's concern is that some District's aren't financially sound enough to move to Next Generation quickly, why not assume control of that District's finances to manage the transition?
"We think that 911 service should be very consistent all across the state and deliver the same quality," Spears says. "But we don't believe that Nashville could come out and say 'this is how you run your 911."
The TECB has made each 911 District eligible for $300,000 in grants to put toward the Next Generation transition.
Such aid could spare Bradley County's District the discomfort of asking Cleveland, Charleston and county legislative bodies for more money to cover costs.
Overages the past two years total $330,000, so Bradley County joins the Comptroller's 'at risk' list too.
"They (the TECB) could resolve a lot of this if they would rethink the distribution of wireless fees (monthly charges collected from phone customers)," Twitty says.
The Tennessee General Assembly may take up such legislation in its next session.
In the meantime, Sequatchie County's operations will face greater state oversight for two more years.