By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo and Shannon remain the final holdouts on a countywide plan to boost funding to the local E911 system.
Both cities are expected to approve the recommended rate hikes in the coming weeks, but failure to do so will scrap the entire plan and jeopardize the future of Lee County E911.
The mayors of eight municipalities, along with Lee County and North Mississippi Medical Center representatives, agreed earlier this year to increase their annual payments to E911. The additional funds would cover gaping shortfalls the agency has plugged with its own reserves for years.
E911 is funded primarily by taxes added on to cellphone and land lines, but those fees are dedicated to emergency dispatch services. They don’t cover non-emergency calls from city and county agencies to run license plate numbers, perform background checks or call a tow truck, for example.
Those services are funded by allocations from the county, the cities and NMMC. But they haven’t kept pace with the rising costs of personnel and technology.
The new funding plan doesn’t completely cover the costs, either, but it’s the first step toward solvency for Lee County E911, which is based in Saltillo and employs 16 full-time dispatchers and three support staff members.
It’s slated to hire four more dispatchers in the coming months, said Director Paul Harkins.
Currently, E911 gets $316,488 from the county, the hospital and the municipalities. The new funding plan will bring that amount to $500,000. And over the course of the next few years, it will increase to $750,000.
Baldwyn, Guntown, Nettleton, Plantersville, Saltillo, Verona, Lee County and NMMC each have approved the increase. Tupelo leaders could vote on it as early as Tuesday; it’d raise their annual allocation from $89,182 to $138,000.
Shannon is expected to vote on Jan. 3 and will boost its payment from $4,260 to $8,000.
“They need everybody’s participation to make up the shortfall or the commission will have to change the service,” said Jon Milstead of the Community Development Foundation, which has facilitated the agreement.
If the remaining municipalities reject the plan and full funding falls through, it could force each individual community to provide its own non-emergency dispatch service, Milstead said. And that’s a huge expense.
“It’s a good deal what they’re getting now,” he said.