The funding for 911 operations saga continued with a meeting of the 911 Public Safety Commission meeting at the County Annex Tuesday evening, Aug. 28. It was the first meeting of the body after the previous week’s Quorum Court meeting. At that meeting City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac read a letter into the record stating the city was not willing to contribute to 911 funding.
McCormac’s public statement was met at the time by a great deal of consternation by both Quorum Court and Fairfield Bay City Council members. Those two groups, with Clinton, had begun meeting at the start of the year to develop a format for appropriate funding for county jail inmates and funding the 911 Center, located in Fairfield Bay. The commission agreed earlier in the year to a per-citation fee to provide jail funds, and was working on an agreement to divide funding for 911 operations between the three entities, with Van Buren County covering 58 percent, Fairfield Bay 23 percent and Clinton 19 percent of the cost not covered by fees on phone service.
The 911 Center was at one time funded completely by phone fees, but as landline use has dropped off costs became an issue for the county and cities as cell phone fees - at roughly half the fee for landlines - have not been able to cover 911 operations.
Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper said earlier that the 911 fee issues was not limited to Van Buren County, but was impacting counties across the state.
The 911 fee on landlines is over $1 per line, while at 65 cent per cell phone. Sources have stated Arkansas has one of the lowest cell phone 911 fees in the nation. Pressure is expected to be placed on the state legislature through lobbying in its next session to raise cell phone fees to be able to cover 911 funding.
At Tuesday’s meeting, with representatives from Fairfield Bay and the Quorum Court in attendance, as well as members of the public, the group could roughly be divided by those looking for a way to develop funding without Clinton participation, and those looking for a way to punish Clinton for not declaring it would support 911 funding by a $44,000 -plus budget line-item for 2019.
No Clinton City Council members or McCormac were at the meeting, nor were any Clinton members listed in the Email sent announcing the meeting. Justice Mary Philips, who co-chairs the commission with Justice Brian Tatum, said the decision was made not to invite Clinton due to its lack of willingness to participate along with Fairfield Bay and the Quorum Court.
The commission weighed input as questions were asked about Clinton’s 911 service. Justice Jackie Sikes, in attendance as an interested party, asked if 911 calls made in Clinton could be re-routed to Clinton police rather than being routed to the existing 911 center. Several joined her in this consideration.
Tatum, a law enforcement officer, explained the mechanics of 911 service to the gathering and discounted the various “end 911 service” considerations being brought up.
Justice Dale James, seated as a commission member, stated “We are not going to stop taking 911 calls,” adding, “there’s no need to scare the citizens to death.”
James, also head of the county’s budget committee, did, as the meeting progressed, make an interesting point that “We’re going to do whatever it takes to balance our budget, 911 will be operational.” He told the gathering he had a plan, but the nature of which “... would be held until Nov. 6.” Later: “There’s a harsh realization here: It’s the county's baby. We don’t need to get everyone involved, we can turn it over to our attorneys.”
Later, in passing, James implied that services on the county budget would be defunded for 2109 in order to make the budget work, and in order to include 911 funding.
County budgets, by state law, must be funded at 90 percent of projected revenue. Deficit budgeting is forbidden. County Judge Hooper had earlier stated that the county was looking at a $65,000 loss in revenue compared to its previous year.
Public comments included a statement by Clintonite John Galbraith who suggested to the commission that 911 service be removed from Clinton.
“If you stopped answering their phones they’d come running,” he said.
[Update: Justice Dale James was misquoted in the above article LINK and his quote had been corrected. We originally printed: “There’s a harsh realization here: It’s the city’s [Clinton’s] baby. We don’t need to get everyone involved, we can turn it over to our attorneys.”
This is incorrect and we regret the error.]