MAYORS UNITED: E-911 dispatch too costly for coverage

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By Beth Braden

Representatives from three municipalities told the Campbell County E-911 board they can’t afford to pay for continued dispatch operations next fiscal year. 

It is a sentiment consistently echoed in the past several months. 

“Our concern is I don’t think the town should be responsible for the bill,” said Jacksboro Mayor Jack Cannon at last Thursday’s E-911 meeting. “Our citizens pay taxes and we think the county should pick up the fees for that.” 

Without critical dispatch services emergency response times could response times could skyrocket, jeopardizing safety in the county and ultimately the lives of citizens. 

Last summer, Campbell County E-911 Director Charlie Hutson informed Caryville, Jacksboro and Jellico they would need to contribute the cost of one dispatcher — approximately $40,000 — in order to continue current 911 dispatch services. LaFollette was exempt because the city maintains its own dispatch. 

The funding problem has been looming, according to Hutson.

“I have gone to every county mayor after Tom Stiner. I have requested monies, monies, monies, to this point. It’s like I was telling you guys when this first started. When we actually began in ’96, the count said they’d pay for nine dispatchers, which they did,” said Hutson. “The LaFollette ambulance service paid for one dispatcher. The sheriff’s department gave us, on loan, a dispatcher. Jellico hospital put money into it. As time went on, a lot of this went away.” 

Jellico Community Hospital stopped providing dispatch funds. LaFollette’s ambulance service merged with the county ambulance service.  The sheriff’s dispatcher left and was never replaced. 

“[Before] we could pick it up, roll with it, and it wasn’t really a big thing,” Hutson explained. “We weren’t on top of it, but we could make it.” 

Most officials understand the dilemma but lack funds to remedy the problem.

“All these things here we’ve already heard. We as a city cannot afford that fee and we don’t think it’s right for our city to pay for it when it’s a county-wide thing,” Cannon said. 

Hutson suggested a group effort could push county commissioners to provide the needed funding for E-911.

“It might be worth it to go to the county as a unionized group and ask [for more money],” he told the mayors. 

Cannon asked the E-911 board as well as the other mayors if they would attend a county commission meeting to formally ask for more money.

Mayoral Reactions

Jellico mayor Les Stiers already opted out of paying for a portion of dispatch. He said the town already handles much of its own dispatching.

Glenn Smith, Caryville’s vice mayor, said his town can’t afford the charge either.

“That’s just too big a bite for Caryville,” he said. 

Caryville’s board of mayor and aldermen discussed the issue further at a special called meeting on Monday. 

Under one option, municipalities can contract with LaFollette for dispatching instead of the county.

Using LaFollette’s dispatch would cost half of what the county requires, according to Stanley, but others, including fire officials, say it could create potential consequences.

“I’ve talked to [Alderman] Allen [Smith]. He knows how the fire department feels. Not putting their dispatchers down…I’ve worked up there. I don’t like the way it’s run,” said Caryville Fire Chief Eddie Hatmaker. “I don’t want to have to holler for a dispatcher two or three times when I need help. That’s probably all my firemen’s feelings.”

Fireman Dewey Madison, who works with the Caryville and Jacksboro fire departments, said the lag in dispatch is a factor Jacksboro also considers.

“We get in a bad situation and we need help and we gotta holler three or four times, it could be one of our lives out there,“ he said. “That’s the way we are at Jacksboro. Jacksboro is considering a lot of options too.” 

Caryville’s board ultimately tabled the issue until the county commission meeting.

The commission will reconvene on April 15 and could consider further options.