ROGERSVILLE - When you call 911 you need help, but it was the director of Hawkins County's 911 call center and dispatching operation who told county commissioners that the operation needs financial help. According to Director Gay Murrell, Hawkins County 911 is going to be asking the state for a telephone surcharge increase and needs an additional $35,000 from the county. Although not a county department, the current county budget and the proposed budget each contain a $140,000 contribution for the service. Murrell made the funding request at a recent Budget Committee meeting. "Hawkins County 911 is operating at a deficit. We had our audit report come out this year and we are at risk of being financially distressed," the director told commissioners. Although the audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011 has just started, the audit for the 2009-10 fiscal year showed operating revenues of $641,302, non-operating revenues and expenses of $151,751 and operating expenses of $848,952, creating a deficit. Murrell explained that the distressed designation means the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board will move in and literally take control of the entire operation, including reviewing and authorizing any purchases of $500 or more. She blamed part of the problem on the decrease in land lines and the increase of cell phones, which generate less surcharge revenue for the district. She also noted that depreciation expense, which must be accounted for as an expenditure, has increased. She also said personnel costs have risen. The director used charts to explain that the call volume has constantly increase each year. She also noted that the 911 center is actually two operations, a call center and a dispatch center under a single roof. "When 911 started this county decided to o to a direct dispatch, which means we receive a call and dispatch that call to an agency," Murrell explained. She also explained that the costs associated with operating the 911 center far exceed the county's current appropriation, with the most recent audit listing salaries and wages of $461,695. In addition to handling calls and dispatch services for all local law enforcement agencies on a regular basis, except Rogersville which has an independent dispatch center for the city police, the agency handles fire calls, medical calls and deals with other agencies. The operation also receives 911 calls for Rogersville, with law enforcement calls then transferred to the city's dispatch "The state has determined now that we are at risk of being financially distressed we need to come back to the county and ask for more money," she said, adding that even though the agency is seeking an increase in the telephone bill surcharges the intent was never to use that money for a dispatch center. Next month Murrell and board members are scheduled to appear before state officials seeking an increase in residential phone surcharges from ninety cents to $1.50 and from $2.25 to $3.00 for business telephones. "My board has instructed me to ask for a $35,000 increase and ask the county for $175,000," Murrell explained, adding that the cities in Hawkins County or the various agencies are not being asked for any contribution. Murrell did say she discussed the cost of creating individual dispatch centers if the central dispatch operation ceases to exists. She said estimated costs to various agencies range from $150,000 to $170,000. "We are looking at more that $500,000 to do what we are doing now and I'm asking for $35,000 more to $175,000," she said. Several commissioners suggested the cities should also contribute money to maintain the service because it is less expensive than running an independent dispatch center, "The reason I decided not to go back to the cities or the agencies is because they are county citizens," Murrell explained. "The city residents pay county taxes too, so I doubt they (city officials) would be willing to pay more," County Mayor Melville Bailey added. Murrell also pointed out that the sheriff's department and other agencies would likely have to turn to county commissioners seeking additional revenue if they had to establish dispatching operations. "The sheriff would definitely need more money in his budget, so he would be back here asking for more," she warned. The committee took no action on Murrell's request, noting the county's budget is still being developed.
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