|E-911 funding an issue?
Numbers show emergency calls made to the E-911 Center last year were largely from the county and Lenoir City.
The total number of dispatch calls tallied 64,132, with 39,599 coming from the county and 17,067 coming from Lenoir City. Loudon made up the remaining 7,466 calls.
“Really to have all of our communications centralized, our dispatchers, our whole 911 staff, they go above and beyond,” Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, Loudon County mayor, said. “To have that centralized communication, luckily we’re very fortunate to live in a community and a county where not many bad things happen, but in the event it is they do just an outstanding job coordinating when there is something that requires multiple agencies. The job they do is just unbelievable, it’s incredible.”
Since 2009, the county has provided $540,000 annually, which E-911 Director Jennifer Estes said is mainly for employee costs. The cities do not provide funding.
E-911 does receive $590,000 from the state, but Estes said that largely goes toward equipment.
No attempts have been made to increase the level of funding from Loudon County, Estes said. Instead, expense cuts have been made to avoid asking for more money, which Estes called challenging.
“Our technology costs obviously increase each year,” Estes said. “Equipment needs and as technology advances across the state, our technology needs increase as well. So equipment is expensive for 911, and then obviously the cost of employees never decreases — it seems with health care and everything that is affiliated with having employees always increases. ... We do as much training as we can in-house to reduce training and travel expenses. We don’t contract out some services that other places do, cleaning services, things like that. We do that — our employees take care of those things to help reduce costs.
“We’re very conscientious with utilities, we treat it like we do our house,” she added. “If you’re not in a room we turn a light off, those kind of things. We just try to be good stewards of the money that we operate off of.”
Loudon County Commissioner Van Shaver has pushed for months for the cities to pay a “fair share of the support” for 911 services.
“The argument you always hear from the cities are, ‘We pay county taxes too’,” Shaver said. “That in itself is correct, but they pay county taxes for county services. The county is having to provide the 911 system, the 911 service, everything that comes to that — NCIC, license plate checks, everything that has to done through 911, we provide that service to the city police departments for enforcing city laws and regulations. So essentially the county taxpayers, along with the cities paying county taxes, are paying for county services, but these two city police departments use that service. We’re all also paying for city services and the cities themselves don’t pay a dime to 911.”
National Crime Information Center entries in 2017 amounted to 55 percent from Lenoir City, 40.3 percent from Loudon County and 4.7 percent from Loudon, according to the Loudon County Emergency Communications District 2017 Annual Report.
Commission Chairman Steve Harrelson said the county won’t back away from its annual contribution even if the cities don’t assist financially.
“I think it’s a situation where the 911 board and county commission both have talked about as far as the cities contributing some money toward 911,” Harrelson said. “It’s a situation that the citizens of both cities, Lenoir City and Loudon, are county taxpayers also so I can see both sides of the cities contributing or not just based on citizens being city taxpayers and county taxpayers, and the county’s already contributing to 911. So I really can’t fault the cities for not contributing additional money when taxpayers are already contributing through the county.”
The county has been the sole contributor of the three entities for years after Lenoir City backed out of funding.
“We felt like it was a county service, not a city service, so we didn’t fund it that particular year and I don’t know what year it was without looking things up but we decided then we just wouldn’t fund it that year and see,” Eddie Simpson, Lenoir City councilman, said. “The county for the next 10 years never asked us for it. Now when they built the new 911 center then they did come back and say, ‘You all used to contribute but you don’t anymore. Would you be willing to do it now?’ We just felt the same that it was a county function, and it should be funded by the county.”
Loudon City Councilman Jeff Harris said he would be willing to listen to a funding request.
“I would be for looking at what we could do to help them with that if it came up before our council, sure,” Harris said. “Now whether if they’ve done it before in the past, they may certainly have, I’m just not aware of it.”
Estes has previously attempted to secure funding from the cities, including asking for a percentage based off call volume or a set amount.
“So it would depend on negotiations with the cities to how would they want to do that,” Estes said. “One lump sump? Would they want to do a percentage? There’s multiple options that could be done.”