How much would Hawkins County pay to start its own Central Dispatch?

Jeff Bobo • Apr 19, 2019 at 1:27 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County 911 Board Chairman Mike Herrell is preparing his fellow county commissioners for the possibility of an expensive, complicated and many would say unnecessary upheaval to Hawkins County Central Dispatch.

Herrell is also the chairman of the Hawkins County Commission and a member of its Public Safety Committee (PSC).

On Wednesday, Herrell told the PSC he’s had conversations with Mayor Jim Lee, during which Lee stated he is considering withholding the county’s annual $175,000 contribution to Central Dispatch.

“I think it’s fixing to be an issue because I have talked to the mayor ... and I’m not for sure what he’s going to do with it,” Herrell told the PSC. “I’m just giving you a heads-up. If this happens, we’re going to have to figure out what to do.”

Hawkins County 911 and Hawkins County Central Dispatch are two separate, independent agencies which are governed by the 911 Board.

However, their tasks overlap and are completed by the same personnel, and they operate out of the same facility on the same budget.

Hawkins 911 receives $734,580 from the state, and Central Dispatch gets a $175,000 annual contribution from the county.

“We have notified the state, and if we (the 911 Board) do not receive the $175,000 from the county, the state is suggesting that we give the dispatch to the county,” Herrell told the PSC. “If that happens, we’re going to have to figure out a way the county is going to pay for dispatch, and if it ends up being that way, we’re going to have to figure it out before we (the county commission) do the (2019-20) budget.”

Herrell noted that if the county takes on dispatching duties, all equipment will remain with 911, and the county would have to purchase its own equipment, as well as hire the employees to operate that equipment.

Hawkins County Central Dispatch has 10 full-time dispatchers and one part-time. The salary for those dispatchers is budgeted at $349,781 this year.

Hawkins County 911 Director Gay Murrell told the PSC Wednesday that if the county commission decides to do its own dispatching, Hawkins 911 and its employees will still operate out of their facility on East Main Street on the far east end of Rogersville.

Hawkins 911 would simply be transferring or relaying 911 calls to the county dispatcher the same way it currently relays 911 calls to Rogersville police and fire, which are the only agencies in the county that do their own dispatching.

Then it would be the county’s responsibility to dispatch those 911 calls to specific police, fire or rescue agencies.

Gay Murrell added, “Paying $175,000 versus the county taking your dispatch — you’re going to have to have those employees, you’re going to have to have those benefits, you’re going to have to have the equipment, you’re going to have to have all of that. And the liability, because we pay all the liability.”

Lee didn’t attend Wednesday’s PSC meeting, but at the January meeting he questioned whether the county should be funding Central Dispatch, noting that expenses have exceeded the amount budgeted for the past several years.

“You’re not a county agency, yet you’re coming to us wanting county funds,” Lee said.

Lee added, “My biggest question is, you can’t balance the budget there for several years, but yet you come back and want $175,000 again this year. I don’t see how we can justify that.”

Herrell noted that the 911 Board has approved the request for the $175,000 contribution in Hawkins County’s 2019-20 general fund budget.

Herrell added, “I'm just giving a heads-up of what could happen. It might not happen, but it could happen. ... I want to make everybody aware of what’s going on.”