Webster County Fiscal Court passed a resolution on Monday ceremoniously recognizing dispatchers at the county's 911 Dispatch. With this symbolic gesture, Webster County joins with other counties from across the state in urging state legislators to officially recognize certified dispatchers as first responders.

"Everybody knows 911 dispatchers are first responders," said 911 director Doug Sauls. "There is a lack of recognition for that at the state and federal level."

While certified dispatchers are required to take hours of annual training, and are the person responsible for walking emergency victims through from the beginning of the phone call until police, ambulance or fire personnel arrive on the scene, under state law they are considered clerical help, not first responders.

If law makers would change that classification, dispatchers would become eligible for

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Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund (KLEFP) monies, which would allow the county to pay them an additional two dollars per hour.

"Its been hard to hold onto dispatchers," said Sauls.

Judge Executive Steve Henry told the court that the ongoing battle to keep certified dispatchers was a by-product of the way dispatch is setup in Webster County.

"When 911 was instituted back around 1990, everyone had a home phone," he said. "A $2 fee was put on everyone's phone bill. Things have changed and hardly anyone has a home phone."

With the growth in popularity of cellular phones, a monthly fee of $0.75 was added to cell phone bills as a surcharge tax. The fee collected in each county goes to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) certified dispatch in that county. Webster County has two, the county's dispatch in Dixon and the municipal dispatch in Providence.

"Its hard on a county our size to have two dispatch centers," Henry said. "We have to split the money up. It isn't enough to fund our dispatch centers. We have to pay for the rest of the expense out of the general fund."

In 2013 the county and city government had discussed merging the two dispatch centers into one, which would have been operated and funded by the fiscal court, but city officials backed out of the deal.

Instead city officials purchased its own dispatch equipment, which comes with a five year expiration date. When that equipment was due to be replaced last fall, the city council voted unanimously to spend $191,854.49 to replace it.

The city brings in roughly $140,000 per year from the state surcharge tax, but spends $99,800 annually to cover the salaries of its dispatch personnel. Unless something has changed recently, none of those dispatchers are certified. The city is also spending $10,000 per year on a maintenance contract for the new equipment.

At the current rate of returns from the surcharge tax and the current payroll scale, the city would accumulate just $150,000 in surplus funds over a five year period, or $190,000 for six. Neither of those would be enough to replace the new equipment at the 2018 cost.

Henry did not say he would be interested in reopening the merger talks from 2013, but it sounds as if discussing the possibility is at least on the table.

"Its a huge cost on the county and the city of Providence to run two separate dispatch centers," said Henry. "I think we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't look at every department and every service we offer."

In other business, the court chose to table discussion of the annual GRITS contract with Audibon Area. The GRITS service provides bus rides to local residents to the grocery store, court and for dialysis treatment.

Henry told the court that they sign the contract every year, but last year Audibon Area came to them in the middle of the year and nearly double the county's rates.

"My problem is that if we sign an agreement that includes the prices, how do they come to us during the year and raise the prices the way they did last year?" he asked. "They gave us less than a week's notice about the increase."

The GRITS price increase came after federal funding to GRITS was cut and Audibon Area felt they needed to get back the money they were losing.

"We went considerably over our budget, beyond what we were reimbursed for," Henry said. "As tight as our budget is, especially with the closing of Dotiki, we don't need to have those unknowns."

It was stressed that not all counties offer such transportation services to their residents.

County attorney Clint Prow was asked to look at the contract before magistrates vote on it.

Magistrates also voted to freeze the county property tax at 18.8 cents per $100 of assessed value, the same rate used in 2018. Because property values in the county actually increased during the last year, that constitutes about a $10,000 increase in revenue to the county, for a total of $962,385.

Monday's vote was just the first reading of the property tax ordinance. There will be a public hearing and final vote held at the court house on August 26 at 9:00 a.m.

Reach MATT HUGHES at 270-667-2068 or matt@journalenterprise.com.