911 board approves budget

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  The 911 Communications District Board of Director approved the agency's 2004-2005 fiscal year budget Tuesday.
  The district's proposed fiscal year 2005 budget of $562,840 rises just over $14,000 from the $548,000 bottom line of last year. The budget includes discretionary appropriations of $80,750 from the city of Elizabethton and Carter County governments.
   The 2005 fiscal year budget projects a drop of $27,000 in emergency telephone surcharges but sees a boost of $60,870 of revenue through the State Emergency Communication Board. The district received a grant of $49,000 for funding countywide mapping system software earlier this year, which is factored into the 2005 budget.
  Expenditures cuts include building and content insurance costs of $5,482 - inadvertently paid twice during FY 2004 - and $5,000 of non-budgeted charges accumulated during the previous budget year. Health and insurance benefit costs for the district's employees rose from $91,892 last year to $113,100 this year.
  Board Director John Pierce said he met with state emergency communications officials regarding the allocation of 911 service surcharges levied to cellular telephone users. The state collects 100 percent of surcharge fees assessed on cellular telephone users and redistributes the money to state 911 districts based on dispatcher employees, Pierce said.
   While the state's metropolitan areas of Memphis and Knoxville were earning 24 to 28 cent returns, rural districts were not faring as well.
  "We earn about 22 cents a phone," Pierce told the board. "The smaller areas are not doing quite as well."
  Pierce also said future work enhancing the infrastructure of cellular communications would be critical for rural areas such as Carter County.
  As an addendum to the budget, board members voted 7-0 to purchase a quality assurance program designed as a safety net for dispatchers when talking to 911 callers. The estimated cost of the program was $16,000. Board members nixed a recommendation from a representative of the company selling the quality assurance program to hire a new district employee to monitor the system.
  "I don't see how you can add personnel without enhancing your revenues," board member Charles Stahl said.
  Revenues remain a major concern to 911 board members and district employees. The city's appropriation from the city dropped $5,000 from last year to match the county's $80,750 amount.
   Unlike agencies that received discretionary government funding, the 911 district was formed after county residents voted to approve the service. District Executive Director Walter Pierce said he was alarmed by discussions during the commission's prolonged budget talks that seemed to push the district's financial needs to the side.
  "We didn't know if we were going to get a nickel or not," Walter Pierce said.