A 2020-21 operating budget for the Greene County Emergency Communications District was discussed but not adopted Tuesday at a meeting of the 911 Board of Directors.
Questions over funding positions for new dispatchers remain. The issue will be explored further at the 911 Board’s next meeting on July 14.
Some board members called for a budget taking into account future dispatcher hires before a spending plan is approved.
Agency Director Jerry Bird said the projected budget includes salaries for 10 full-time dispatchers. More are in the process of being hired.
In order to make the central dispatch concept being implemented work, Bird has estimated that 18 dispatchers will be needed. Two were recently hired to replace dispatchers who have left or will retire soon.
Hiring 14 full-time dispatchers has been approved by the 911 board.
A ‘REALISTIC BUDGET’
“You need to have a realistic budget,” county Attorney Roger Woolsey said.
Greene County 911 is jointly funded by the Town of Greeneville and Greene County, with additional revenues from the state.
“You need to give all those people in the county or the town (figures) to see exactly what it is going to cost,” Woolsey said.
Board treasurer and county Commissioner John Waddle said that the majority of budget expenditures are in two areas, salaries and benefits and equipment maintenance agreements.
“If 911 can absorb 12 or 14 (dispatcher salaries) with the budget we have now, if we need more, we can go to the county and the city easier in my opinion,” Bird said.
Tim Ward, board chairman and Greeneville police chief, said at least 14 dispatcher positions need to be included in the budget.
“We’re getting the cart a little ahead of the horse. We’ve got to determine how we could do that,” said Danny Lowery, county budget director.
Bird said there are currently 11 full-time dispatchers at county 911, along with a part-time dispatcher and two officers working at 911 from the Greeneville Police Department and Greene County Sheriff’s Department.
A Greeneville police officer and a Greene County sheriff’s deputy will continue to be assigned to 911 Dispatch.
The “cooperative effort” will continue for the foreseeable future, Ward said.
“We have all the components. The only thing we are lacking in central dispatch is manpower,” he said. “Until we get more people hired and trained, it’s going to have to be that way. (They will) provide a little knowledge and assistance, for at least for a while.”
Projected salaries, wages and benefits contained in the 2020-21 proposed budget total just over $1 million, with total operating expenses of about 1.57 million. The proposed budget contains a deficit of about $625,000.
The 2020-21 fiscal year begins on July 1. The 911 board tabled further budget action until its July 14 meeting. 911 Dispatch will operate under a “continuation” budget based on spending 1/12th of its operating funds for 2020-21.
Beyond dispatcher funding, training and other components of central dispatch are progressing, Bird told directors.
“Everything is moving according to plan. We have got behind a couple of weeks because of the pandemic,” Bird said. “We are still working with law enforcement to continue to learn their way (of operation).”
The amount of revenue for Greene County 911 from a surcharge increase passed in the state General Assembly has not been determined, Bird said.
Different scenarios that would provide Greene County 911 Dispatch with additional annual revenue ranging from $109,000 to $140,000 have been proposed, he said.
The previous statewide 911 surcharge was $1.16 a month for all devices capable of calling 911. The state General Assembly ratified the increase of the 911 surcharge rate to $1.50, as approved by the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board.
The surcharge increase will provide funding for Greene County 911, and projects like central dispatch. County officials have said the current state revenue-sharing formula that allocates funds to emergency communications districts does not provide rural counties like Greene their fair share of funds.
“We are waiting to see what the state does,” Bird said.
A set amount would not be guaranteed to the county each year, he added.
“(The state) is determining what we would get,” Bird said.