Area mayors and appointed representatives met together with Sebastian County Judge David Hudson, Jeff Turner, Sheriff Hobe Runion, and Chief Deputy Kevin Nickson on Wednesday, December 11.
The intergovernmental meeting included Mayors and representatives from the Cities of Barling, Greenwood, Hackett, Huntington, Lavaca and Mansfield.
The meeting was set to further discuss details and issues with the county’s dispatch service and the funding requested by Hudson and Runion. After the minutes were approved from the previous meeting, Judge Hudson discussed issues raised during city council meetings.
“Sheriff Runion was the first Sheriff willing to weather this storm,” stated Hudson. Adding that, “…this issue has been discussed over the years with several sheriffs and it has been known that it is somewhat of an issue.”
That “issue” is a lack of funds to pay for non-emergency dispatch services within the county. Hudson noted that the pay increases included in the original agreement was “a point of some contention as some of the smaller cities do not give annual salary increases.”
Because of that, Hudson removed that stipulation. “If you don’t take care of your employees, either they are unhappy or will find better employment,” he added.
After outlying the revisions, Hudson opened the floor to discussion and questions about the agreement. “As a council member or as a mayor, you might could say where is our responsibility in this in the first place…to participate in staffing an emergency services department.”
The non-emergency services Hudson referenced included answering city phone lines, dispatching non-emergency calls, entering property in NCIC/ACIC, validating property in NCIC/ACIC, driver’s license and license plate queries and arrest warrant queries. Until now, cities have always relied on these services for free. Hudson commented that the continued rise in population among the cities and the hiring of more police officers has created a heavier workload for dispatchers. “Providing the funding to provide non-emergency services is not within our charge,” stated Hudson. “You will find that is within your charge as mayors within your cities…”
Hudson highlighted the changes that have occurred over the years, noting that these changes have forced the call for dispatch funding assistance. One of those changes included the jail budget expansion, which has increased over three million dollars. It was paid for, according to Hudson, out of the general fund and the sales tax fund.
Sheriff Runion recognized the problem with high turnover and overworked staff within the dispatch center, and went to the judge seeking answers. “We are talking about sharing this staffing,” Hudson stated. “Which, is the cheapest, most cost-effective ways for each of your cities to deal with this matter.”
Hudson then went on to discuss the consequences to those cities who do not participate. “Why are there consequences? If there were no consequences from the sheriff’s office, why would anybody do this? You’ve been getting the services for no cost, forever…” Hudson shared that the memo outlining the forthcoming changes from those not participating was a difficult memo for the sheriff to write, as he too, is an elected official. That memo highlighted the non-emergency services that would no longer be available to those who choose not to enter into an agreement, effective March 1, 2020.
The proposed agreement has been highly contested in several cities, in fact, some discussions have become heated.
The City of Greenwood will pay the largest portion of the agreement at $27,948. Mayor Doug Kinslow said, “it is our job to take what information we know and bring it back to the council…But, I could go to them all day long with this issue, if they don’t like it, it’s not going to happen…”
Kinslow relayed the wishes of one council member, who stated that they would like to look at an option of funding only one of the two dispatcher positions. Greenwood Police Department Captain Richie Wolford, who was also in attendance, questioned why the charge to the cities is based on census population and not radio usage. Sheriff Runion responded, stating that “traditionally, looking back all the way to 2014, Greenwood, although they have the highest population, also had the largest use of radio.”
Currently, every call to dispatch is logged into the system. When an officer goes to lunch, for example, that non-emergency call is logged by a dispatcher.
Runion then addressed both Hackett Alderman Louis Kirkendall and Mansfield Mayor Buddy Black. Both cities are asking for Runion to attend their next council meeting. Runion stated that this has been in the works for a long time, and a great deal of planning had taken place in an effort to be fair. He went on to add that he has “watched” other counties who have already implemented this type of agreement.
Another question posed, “will e-dispatch reduce the number of calls?” Runion’s reply, “it will reduce it, but it will not eliminate it.”
Hudson stated that he will discuss the progress with the Quorum Court at the next meeting. He emphasized the importance of “working together,” stating “if we’re not united, this is not going to work very well. The pieces will start to fall apart.”
Hudson then took a roll call to field where each representative stood on the agreement:
Barling – Yes
Bonanza – Yes
Central City – Yes
Greenwood – Pending
Hackett – Pending
Hartford – Pending
Huntington – Voted no, Mayor Gary Lawrence stated they will be revisiting it on Monday night.
Lavaca – Yes
Mansfield – Pending
Midland – Yes
There will be another meeting of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council in the future to conclude talks on the non-emergency dispatch services, issues with the radio tower and animal control.