The debate about the City of Clinton's contribution to 911 funding grew into a near-argument at the Van Buren County Quorum Court meeting last Thursday, Aug. 23.

Concerns had been raised previously when Clinton City Councilman and committee member Jeff Pistole told the commission meeting held to discuss 911 funding that the city was not prepared to commitment to funding.

This was followed by a Clinton City Council meeting, held one week prior to the Quorum Court meeting, where the city council was addressed by the Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper and City of Fairfield Bay Mayor Paul Wellenberger about the need for Clinton to make what is a Fair Share contribution to 911 operations.

Funding, in a series of meetings by the intergovernmental commision, had been set with Clinton paying 19 percent of the monies for 911 operations not met by existing fees, with Van Buren County covering 58 percent and Fairfield Bay paying 23 percent, based on percent of total calls to the 911 Center. The percentages were determined by the commision to be valued at $44,604 for Clinton, $53,994 for Fairfield Bay and $136,160 for the county, informally referred to as a “Fair Share” agreement.

Fairfield Bay, which had a higher number of ambulance calls as calculations were being made, also assumed the one percent share for the cities of Shirley and Damascus.

At the Thursday's Quorum Court meeting, a resolution was proposed which would allow Hooper, as County Judge, to negotiation with Fairfield Bay and Clinton in order to “share the cost of funding the 911 center.” What followed was a presentation by several, led by City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac.

Hooper, as the resolution was placed for discussion, told the court he would not alter the percent figures in the Fair Share agreement.

McCormac told the court, reading from a letter dated Aug. 23, “… our budget committee met and the city has agreed not to commit the funds requested by the 911 committee.”

Continued in the letter was that the City of Clinton was not able to commit funds pending estimates for a 2019 budget, which in turn could not be accurately estimated “until the third quarter ends.” The letter further that the meet the funding requirement the city would have to lay off an employee and “… the city believes that all our employees are necessary.”

The carefully-worded letter signed by McCormac, and subsequent statements, did not outright discount the City of Clinton's willingness to participate in funding, only that it would not commit the funds pending the end of the third quarter, which ends Sept. 30.

McCormac's statement was met by a reaction from the Court, including from Justice Mary Philips, who is the co-chair of the committee pursuing 911 funding (along with funding for the jail, which had been reconciled earlier by raising the per-offense fee on tickets written in the county). Seated next to Philips was Justice Brian Tatum, the other committee chair.

Philips read a prepared statement, addressing McCormac, which called out the City of Clinton for, in effect, passing the buck in the decision making process.

“If personnel must be laid off, somebody else has to do it. If the public has to lose services let somebody else do it. If the public has to feel the pain, let the county of Fairfield Bay shoulder it,” Philips said.

Wellenberger spoke, briefly, telling the court that Clinton's unwillingness to commit was putting Fairfield Bay, and his office, in a difficult position. Wellenberger had previously stated after the commission meeting announcement that without Clinton's commitment the 911 Center staff would need to begin using its accrued comp and vacation time as the city was not prepared to fund their employment after Dec. 31, and was not in a position to pay compensation for comp time employees had acquired, indicating that Fairfield Bay would not continue to employ 911 staff after year's end.

“Somebody has to pay for this,” Philips said, “Fairfield Bay to date has paid $800,000 [to fund 911].”

City of Fairfield Bay Councilwoman, and funding commission member, Linda Duncan spoke, and was more direct in her assessment: “[Clinton] does not want to protects their citizens,” she said.

The history which led to the county 911 center beng located in Fairfield Bay was brought up by McCormac, who referred to the “hot coals” being stirred by the issue of 911 funding. Adding that, as has been pointed out previously, when the center was first located, it was self-funded through phone line fees. As the population moved from landline to cell service, the fees decreased, leading to the current issue of the center no longer being self-funded by phone fees.

“I'm aware there's a history here,” McCormac said.

A woman addressed the court, stating she lived in Clinton, asking why the money for 911 could not be added to the city's water bill.

“We'll pay our fair share,” she said.

The City of Clinton had, at one time, placed an additional fee on the water bill to fund the city fire department. A legislative audit determined that doing so was illegal and the fee was removed. An effort was made last year for Clinton citizens to pass a tax supporting the fire department, but the Fire Tax was defeated at the polls.

The resolution for the County Judge to enter into negotiations did not pass. The next Public Safety Commission (at times referred to as the “911 Commission”) meeting is Tuesday evening, Aug. 28, after this issue goes to press.

McCormac, joined by Pistole, said later that the letter he read to the Court did not entirely discount Clinton participating in funding, only that the city was not able to commit to funding until the third quarter was over. The letter was careful, however, not to use the term “at this time,” McCormac said.

McCormac and Pistole both stated that what contact they had gotten from voters about the matter favored the city not funding the 911 Center.

In other Quorum Court matters

The Court entered into an agreement with Clinton for chip and seal work on some area roads. Justice Burgess was concerned that doing so would cut out potential private industry, but Hooper explained to the court that not potential private bidders were able to do the work until after Jan. 1, 2019. The measure passed. The rain storm the previous Sunday was expected to bring a disaster declaration to the county, Hooper told the Court, with over a half-million dollars in damage. The court heard a presentation from Damascus and Clinton libraries about the success of the Summer Reading programs. The programs, fully funded by grants, resulted in over 2,000 books and well over 10,000 pages being read by area children.

[Copies of the City of Clinton letter and Justice Mary Philips statement will be included in the online presentation of this article.]

[Disclosure: The Van Buren County Democrat, in a previous editorial, did come out in favor of the City of Clinton participating in 911 funding.]