HUNTERSVILLE – Even though Huntersville’s town employees did not get any raises this year, Huntersville taxpayers paid 62 percent of the merit pay increase that Cornelius officials gave their 911 operators.
Cornelius provides 911 dispatch services for itself, Huntersville and the Davidson College police department, and the operating agreement calls for Huntersville to pay 62 percent of the costs because of its larger population. The college pays a straight fee for dispatch services.
Since Huntersville officials raised questions about the Cornelius bonuses, Cornelius Town Manager Anthony Roberts said Cornelius staff was wrong to bill Huntersville for the bonuses, and Cornelius will credit Huntersville fully – about $5,500.
At the Huntersville town board annual retreat Thursday, Feb. 24, Commissioner Danae Caulfield said Huntersville officials often find out about spending decisions after they’re made, and call data for 2010 indicates Huntersville is paying more than its fair share of the operating costs.
But Roberts and Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy, who sit on a joint advisory committee overseeing the 911 operation, interpret the data differently. They said officials from both towns will have to analyze the data together to try to reach a compromise.
Caulfield and Police Chief Philip Potter represent Huntersville on the 911 committee, and she recommended Huntersville renegotiate to pay 45 percent, with Cornelius picking up 55 percent. She cited the following reasons:
• The 2010 call data shows that Huntersville accounted for more of the total calls, which includes 911 and other types of calls, in the first two months of 2010, but Cornelius made more total calls in 9 of the remaining 10 months – and more calls overall for the year.
But Gilroy and Roberts say many of those “calls” are actually officers transmitting information from the computers in their cruisers and don’t involve dispatchers at all.
Just counting 911 calls, Huntersville still generates more, Cornelius officials said.
• By having the 911 operators in its department, Cornelius is able to keep its department open to the public 24-7, even though Huntersville is a larger town and police force.
• Both towns are allocated 911 funds from the state through a small fee applied to all phones. Huntersville’s funds – which are greater than Cornelius’ – are applied to all the equipment purchased for the 911 center, and the equipment becomes the property of Cornelius.
• Cornelius appointed one of its lieutenants as the director of the center, meaning Huntersville is paying 62 percent of that officer’s salary. But the Cornelius lieutenant could perform other police functions “outside of dispatch,” meaning Huntersville could be supplementing Cornelius’ staff.
• With the 911 center in Cornelius, Cornelius police officials “have direct access to car locations, calls and complaint issues” that Huntersville doesn’t.
Gilroy, the Cornelius commissioner, said the proposal for Cornelius to assume 55 percent of the operating costs “doesn’t make any sense” because it’s not based on an analytical study of “what drives the costs.”
Gilroy said he’s open to renegotiating the towns’ interlocal agreement and acknowledges Cornelius gets benefits from having the 911 center in its department. But he wants to see a better analysis of the costs.
Huntersville Town Manager Greg Ferguson emphasized that Cornelius officials have been more transparent in spending for the 911 center in recent times, providing line-item bills and “more accountability than ever before.”
“We’ve had a great relationship with Cornelius,” he added. “We still have to work with them, and our goal is to work with them.”
At the same time, Potter and Caulfield said Huntersville should have a part in major decisions, such as the hiring and firing of a director, re-negotiation of Davidson College’s fees and any budget decisions, such as salaries and raises. The interlocal agreement, Caulfield said, provides for the executive committee of the two police chiefs to make decisions together and present them to the two town boards.
Nonetheless, Huntersville commissioners made a point of including space for a future 911 center in plans for their new police department. Huntersville voters will have the final say in November when they vote on bonds to finance the new police department.
Total 911 calls from Huntersville and Cornelius:
Town Total calls 911 only
Huntersville 66,612 13,793
Cornelius 68,383 8,761
Total 143,719 23,392
Note: The data only represent January through November 2010, as December data are not yet available. The first number shows all calls, including those that don’t involve the 911 dispatcher. The second is only calls to 911.