published Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Finances threaten Sequatchie 911 office

BY THE NUMBERS

Sequatchie County’s 911 District funding and budget:

Dunlap

Dispatching: $25,000

Warrant services: $15,000

Sequatchie County

Dispatching: $50,000

Warrant services: $40,000

Total local funding: $130,000

Total operating revenues: $320,000

Depreciation: $75,000 (2010)

Source: Sequatchie County E-911, Sequatchie County and Dunlap governments

The Sequatchie County 911 office could be put under Tennessee Emergency Communications Board supervision if a recent audit shows it in the red for a third consecutive year, officials say.

Sequatchie County commissioners last week approved $40,000 for the county’s 911 District to keep the department running until the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

County Commissioner Clint Huth, who also is Dunlap, Tenn.’s police chief, said the $40,000 had been in the budget this year but was cut when officials thought the General Assembly would pass a bill increasing state funding for 911. That didn’t happen, and the local money had to be reinstated, he said.

County 911 Director Mike Twitty said the financial problems come from a combination of equipment depreciation, lower revenue from telephone land lines and wireless fees shared by the state. Revenues are down as much as 23 percent from previous years, Twitty said.

Tennessee requires 911 equipment to be depreciated, but if net assets put a district into the red for three years, the state communications board can take over the 911 center, Twitty said.

“The irony is that the state of Tennessee gave us the money to purchase the equipment that we’re depreciating, and that depreciation is putting us into the red,” he said.

The problem might be solved if the state owned the equipment and 911 centers just operated it, he said.

But Lynn Questell, executive director of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, said there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Because of the audit, Sequatchie could join 911 districts in Tennessee’s Hancock and Jackson counties that are under board oversight, Questell said.

Hancock and Jackson were deemed “financially distressed” because they were not getting enough money for their dispatching services, she said, and that might be a problem for Sequatchie, too.

County Executive Michael Hudson said the county pays 911 $50,000 a year for dispatching and $40,000 for cataloging and tracking warrants. Dunlap also kicks in $40,000 for both services.

Hudson said the county approved $40,000 the last two years for warrant services.

But Questell agreed that “depreciation is a real issue.”

The state board changed policies in September to take a closer look at financial distress caused by depreciation, she said. Now districts that are financially healthy except for depreciation would be deemed at risk, rather than distressed, she said.

She said she couldn’t predict what will happen in Sequatchie until officials receive the district’s most recent audit. That should be in May, she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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