LAURINBURG — The Laurinburg City Council is expected to vote next week on an amended memorandum of understanding capping the city’s contribution to the county emergency call center at $250,000 annually.
After more than an hour of discussion during its agenda meeting on Tuesday night, council also concluded that it will gradually withdraw support to the center, leaving it funded completely by the county within 10 years.
The memorandum drafted by the county sources 67 percent of the center’s personnel costs from the county, with 33 percent coming from the city. All other operational costs will be borne by the county.
“The 33 percent, I don’t have a problem with that as long as we cap it up to $250,000,” council member Dee Hammond said.
Based on information from Finance Director Cindy Carpenter and Laurinburg Police Department chief telecommunicator Lisa Howell, who has worked in a similar center, similar emergency call centers in North Carolina, including in Union and Hoke counties, transitioned from a city-county partnership in their initial years before transitioning to solely county funding.
“They are taking on an expense that we used to have, at least for our area, and I’m trying to figure out why it is that the county just takes over,” said council member Drew Williamson. “If I were the county, I would say to the city just what they’re trying to, you guys keep paying your part forever because you have this obligation right now.”
Mayor Tommy Parker pointed out that Laurinburg residents as well as those living outside of the city limits pay the same county tax and will receive the same service from the 911 center.
“I think we have said we will fund what we’re doing, now the question is how long and how much more than we’ve been funding are we going to do,” Parker said. “The challenge for them is to manage this thing so efficiently that our money goes further than it was going with us having two things, and that our citizens get a better service, period.”
For the dispatchers currently handling emergency calls made within Laurinburg, the city council is currently spending about $210,000 per year. In addition to full-time dispatchers, the 911 center will also hire part-time staff and a center director.
“If city council said that they will turn over those employees, then we should say we will pay for those employees 10 years and be done with it, or 10 years and then renegotiate, but you will pay what it costs to run this operation right here,” said council member J.D. Willis.
During Tuesday’s regular council meeting, City Manager Charles Nichols is expected to present a memorandum of understanding amended to reflect council’s intent to pay the lesser of 33 percent of personnel costs or $250,000 per year for the three-year term of the memorandum. Following that period, the memorandum may clarify that the city’s contribution will diminish annually until the center is completely county funded.
“We’re going to try to have a complete understanding,” said Parker. “Charles and I will try to sit down with them and say this is what council really wants.”
In other business, council discussed concerns raised during its citizen input session last month — foremost among them, the amount of litter on city roads.
“There’s a possibility of having a crew that focuses on litter and edging year-round,” Nichols said. “If we can do it with one staffer, that’s a possibility.”
According to public works director Stacey McQuage, assembling an inmate crew to pick up trash more than once or twice a week is not feasible with his current staff.
“We can finesse supervising seven or eight, but if we go 12, 13, or 14, he needs an extra person that could pick them up in the morning, bring them back in the evening,” Parker said.
City staff were directed to formulate a workable plan to create such a crew and present it to council at a later date.
Council also discussed possibly revoking last year’s amendment to the city’s unified development ordinance permitting military training facilities within city limits. Parker, Williamson, and council member Mary Jo Adams spoke in favor of leaving the ordinance as is for now.
Willis and council member Curtis Leak, who both voted against the amendment originally, wish to see it removed.
The issue of military training facilities, as well as solar farms and sweepstakes cafes, will be addressed in an overhaul of the unified development ordinance to be completed this year.
“I think we need to have a public hearing and go back and rescind what we did, then let the UDO people go on and look at it as if we had never done that,” Willis said to assent from Hammond.
That update is expected to be approved by council next week, along with a budget amendment to cover half of its $48,300 cost in the current fiscal year.
“We went through all this hustle … and it falls through for reasons I’m still not sure of,” Williamson said. “It probably did us all a favor when it happened, let’s face it, but now we’re turning right around and rescinding it just when we’re redoing our entire unified development ordinance. I think it looks unprofessional.”
Council took no action, and the public hearing concerning rescinding the ordinance amendment, scheduled for Tuesday’s regular council meeting, will remain on the agenda.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.