The Hawkins County 911 Board learned Thursday that a 10 percent budget funding cut approved by the County Commission on Aug. 25 would put a substantial amount of state funding at risk.
According to information provided by the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (TECB), by decreasing 911 funding — which is listed as a charitable contribution in the county budget — the Hawkins County Commission will have failed to meet “maintenance of effort.” Failure by local government to meet maintenance of effort in agencies that also receive state funding often results in state funding being cut.
Last year, Hawkins 911 received a $140,000 contribution from the county, but with the 10 percent cut was reduced to $126,000 in the 2008-09 budget approved on Aug. 25.
TECB executive director Lynn Questell told Hawkins County 911 Director Gay Murrell and 911 Board Chairman Kevin Cassidy on Thursday morning to be in Nashville on Nov. 20 to find out how much those cuts will be. At risk are a $120,000 one-time stipend approved by the General Assembly this year, as well as a significant portion of 911 surcharge funds.
Questell told the Times-News Thursday, however, that this problem would just “go away” if the County Commission restored the $14,000 in 911 funding that had been cut.
As the Hawkins County 911 Board discussed these problems during its meeting Thursday, little did it know that a resolution restoring the funding had already been submitted to the county mayor’s office.
Commissioner Virgil Mallett, who is vice chairman of the commission’s Budget Committee submitted a proposed resolution to the county mayor’s office Wednesday that calls for all contribution funding to the county’s fire, rescue and other emergency services including 911 to be restored to 2007-08 levels.
County Mayor Crockett Lee attended Thursday’s 911 Board meeting. The fact that Lee didn’t mention the proposed resolution during Thursday’s 911 Board discussion of the potential state cuts had some officials scratching their heads when they found out about the resolution on Friday.
Lee told the Times-News on Friday that he was aware of the resolution being submitted on Wednesday, but didn’t see it in writing until Friday.
Murrell learned of the existence of Mallett’s proposed resolution on Friday, and told the Times-News she’s praying that the full commission approves it. The alternative will likely be a devastating reduction in state funding which she said could result in Hawkins 911 halting its dispatching service.
In such a case Hawkins 911 would take 911 calls and transfer them to the appropriate agencies, which would be responsible for their own dispatching.
Mallett told the Times-News Friday he’d discussed the proposed resolution with Lee on Wednesday. Putting the emergency services funding that had been cut back in the budget will cost a little more than $40,000.
This year’s budget called for an ending fund balance of about $300,000. Although replacing the emergency funds will cut it a little closer then wanted, Mallett said he sees no alternative.
“What you have to do when they (the state) try to withhold your funds is you either have to pay up or take them to court, and if you go to court it’s going to cost you more than it would to put that money back in the budget,” Mallett said. “The (budget approval) motion made in the Budget Committee stated that anything mandated federally, by the state or county resolution was to be excluded from these cuts. Apparently no one knew this (911 funding) was mandated because if they did it wouldn’t have been cut to begin with. The most important thing is we’ve got a tax rate in place now and we’re going to have to live with that regardless.”
Mallett’s resolution will likely be a topic of discussion at the next Budget Committee meeting on Sept. 15 and will be considered by the full commission when it meets Sept. 22.