By BUTCH WEIR/Special to the Item
The Picayune Item
Aldermen received better news last week in the uncertainty swirling around the city’s emergency dispatch crisis, but people should still call 911 if they believe there is an emergency.
Police officers John Kramer and Rossie Creel last Tuesday outlined a plan that Poplarville Mayor Billy Spiers says could save the city “a good bit of money” when compared to the alternative the city was facing only a few weeks earlier.
That alternative was an $85,000 bombshell that suddenly appeared in September when Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison delivered a letter stating that unless the city agreed to pay the county for the salaries of two 911 dispatchers, he would be forced to stop emergency dispatching services for the city.
Allison said funding cuts in his department’s budget were forcing him to eliminate two radio dispatchers and the only funding option he saw was for the city to make up the difference. An original Nov. 1 deadline for this to happen had been extended until the first of the year following further deliberations between the county and city and their attorneys.
Kramer said a workable solution for the city’s non-emergency and office-initiated call dispatching came from utilizing a grant for dispatching software and a secure off-site location for data storage, reducing the city’s cost to a more manageable figure.
He said the city had been prepared to spend $13,000 but the first options explored would have ultimately cost about $30,000 which was still less than the $85,000 first projected.
Creel said a major cost reduction was found later that required a monthly access fee. After an initial subscription fee of $800, the monthly cost would run about $450 per month, Kramer said, plus a fee for mobile access to NCIC, the national crime database. The extra fee allows officers to check tags and driver’s license information from a police cruiser’s laptop.
Kramer said the above amounts may be subject to some change but that the up-front money first projected had been drastically reduced.
He said an additional benefit was that the city would not need additional software and computer storage because officers would be accessing off-site computers. Kramer said with that option the cost-saving would go instead toward the monthly service fee.
Kramer said the new system will include three different software management packages: Record management, C.A.D. (computer aided design), and the municipal court computer system. He said the city had already been paying for the court system so at an additional $450 a month, “you pay that a long time before you run into $30,000 (the first cost projection).”
Creel told the board they estimated the high-end cost for this solution at $12,000 a year, compared to the $85,000 Sheriff Allison had been requesting for access to the county system.
Creel said the system also provides good redundancy for saving data and encryption. Kramer said data backups were done three times a day with two redundant systems and the backups were stored at another location. File backups now are all on-site, he said.
Spiers asked if the city’s officers would require additional training and was told that most already had much of the knowledge needed.
Police Chief Charles Fazende said county dispatchers will not be dispatching the city for non-emergency calls. City responders would be handling the non-emergency calls because county dispatch would not run driver’s license checks, NCIC checks, tags or similar items for the city.
The 911 system comes under the authority of the county board of supervisors which are the 5-member 911 committee. Supervisors can serve as the committee or they can appoint a committee.
Kramer said “the simple fact of the matter is the city of Poplarville doesn’t have the financial where-with-all to answer 911 calls. We don’t have the equipment, we don’t get any of the money for 911.” Also, Fazende said legally the city didn’t have the authority to do so.
Fazende said there were additional benefits not immediately apparent with the system under consideration.
“The fact that you don’t have to maintain this equipment … If it goes out in the middle of the night we’re not scurrying around trying to find a computer guy to fix this thing. (Somebody is) already on it before we ever know it’s broken.
“At some point you’ll break even, on paper, but you get a lot more benefits that you don’t think about…,” particularly in cost.
“We never would break even if we had to go the sheriff’s way,” Spiers said.
Fazende said this solution to the dispatching dilemma came around just at the right time and he urged the board to study the proposal closely because of the time constraint posed by the first of the year deadline.
Spiers said if the board approves the plan, it can be up and running before January 1.
“The homework’s been done. It’s time for us to do something,” Spiers said. “Either go with the sheriff or …”, at that point Winborn interrupted with a motion to approve the proposal.
Creel said “on the high end you’re looking at less than $12,000 a year. That’s a lot cheaper than $85,000 (the sheriff had requested).” Alderman John Grant said “I think you’ve come up with a better approach, for less money…”
Winborn moved to proceed with the proposal presented by Kramer and Creel and alderman Byron Wells seconded the motion. It was passed unanimously.
In other matters the board:
— Discussed street repair issues stemming from original sewer line work done by Magnolia Paving several years earlier. The city says those lines now fall under the current system administered through the Pearl River County Utility Authority that recently completed an extensive upgrade to the city’s wastewater system. At issue is who is responsible for repairs caused by that original work. The city had earlier won a lawsuit against Magnolia Paving for damages to streets that was ruled caused by improper impaction of soil prior to paving. The original contract will be reviewed by the board attorney.
— Wiltshire briefed the mayor and board on results of several conferences and initiatives she had attended: starting an online webpage for the city and another on the possibility of getting a city-wide wi-fi service.
Adjourned until 5 p.m., Dec. 4.