By Emily Le Coz | NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Lee County and its municipalities will significantly increase their annual allocations to E911 to plug shortfalls in the emergency-response agency they all share.
But it’ll take another five years before they reach the recommended funding level.
The communities of Baldwyn, Guntown, Nettleton, Plantersville, Saltillo, Shannon, Tupelo and Verona will pay a combined $212,000 to E911 during the current fiscal year, a more than 60 percent increase from their previously combined allocations of $131,360.
Figures are based on population size, and Tupelo will pay the most at $138,000.
For its part, Lee County will increase its annual contribution from $150,000 to $246,500. The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the change at its meeting Monday. Other communities must separately approve their rate increases.
North Mississippi Medical Center also will boost its annual contribution, from $35,125 to $41,500.
“It’s been a long time coming, and it’s just now being addressed on a concrete level,” said Lee County E911 Director Paul Harkins. “We’ve asked for cost sharing for 20 years, and it’s been spotty at best. Some agencies were consistent in providing money and some weren’t.”
Lee County E911 has a team of dispatchers who provide emergency related services to individuals, municipalities, law-enforcement agencies, medical responders and organizations throughout the county.
It costs about $1.6 million annually to fund the operation, which gets a substantial portion of its revenue from telephone surcharges but also relies on contributions from the cities and county.
Those contributions, however, haven’t been enough to cover operating expenses. And E911 was dipping into its reserves to make ends meet, Harkins said.
The new funding levels will help, but they still fall short this year by about $250,000. Annual allocations will gradually increase during the next five or six years until that gap is closed, said Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson.
“The cost of doing business went up,” Thompson said, citing new advancements in technology that come with a hefty price tag. “And the cities have come together to deal with that.”
During the past year, Lee County and its eight municipalities have been meeting to deal with the situation. The new funding plan was a result of that effort.
“It just shows we all came together as a partnership to solve a problem,” said Baldwyn Mayor Michael James. “Nine-one-one is something that’s important, not just to one area, but to all of Lee County. When we pick up the phone and call 911, we want someone on the other end.”