2017 in reivew: Turmoil over 911 funding ends with interlocal agreement

Published 6:47 am Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Editor’s note: This is one of six “big stories of the year” as chosen by The Advocate-Messenger.

2017 was a year spent in uncertainty about the future of 911 service in Boyle County, but it ended with much of that uncertainty resolved.

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Early in the year, a couple different issues surfaced:

• Dr. Eric Guerrant, head of the Ephraim McDowell ER in Danville, brought to Danville’s attention the area’s dismal survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests: 3.7 percent in 2016 and 0 percent in 2015. Nationwide, that survival rate is around 12 percent, he said.

Guerrant proposed adding “emergency medical dispatch” (EMD) services at Danville’s 911 center, which would allow dispatchers to provide instructions to callers on how to give assistance to people having medical emergencies, including CPR, before EMS could arrive.

• Danville City Commission began planning for an upgrade to its 911 center, as well as implementation of EMD service, while also criticizing what they saw as a lack of funding support from the other major entity using its call center, the Boyle County Fiscal Court.

At the core of the funding complaints was an estimated $700,000 in 911-earmarked funds that Boyle was holding in reserve and Danville wanted access to it. 

911 funding

Boyle County magistrates were swift to take action concerning Danville’s complaints — five days after Danville commissioners were first publicly critical in late April, magistrates voted to put an additional $200,000 in their proposed budget for 911 services and the addition of EMD.

But the $700,000 in 911-earmarked funds would remain a sticking point between the two entities for months more.

The earmarked funds came from two sources: state-provided revenues from a 70-cents-per-month fee on cell phone accounts; and a Boyle County ordinance charging 50 cents per month on every landline telephone.

From Boyle County’s perspective, Treasurer Mary Conley said the county is legally required to account for the earmarked funds and must be able to prove to auditors that the money was spent in the right ways. That prevented Boyle County from simply handing the money to Danville without an accounting of how it was spent.

Emails sent in early May showed the city and county were working on the possibility of a 911 interlocal agreement. While Danville’s call center has always provided 911 service for all of Boyle County, there had never been a formal agreement put into writing.

But public criticisms continued to fly between the city and the county.

In mid-May, Magistrate Jack Hendricks asked Boyle County Information Technology Director Bill Nichols to “monitor” the planned $500,000 upgrade of Danville’s 911 center systems — the cost of which would be paid for out of Boyle’s earmarked reserves.

“I think some numbers — like for the medical thing — it seems to me like some of those numbers, somebody reached up in the sky and pulled them out,” Hendricks said at the time. “We need somebody to be looking at this and telling us — do we need a half-a-million-dollar renovation? Is that what we have to have to bring us up to federal guidelines? … I don’t know that.”

In June, Danville passed its budget without EMD services included — at the time, officials said it had been cut in order to reduce a tax increase, but it would be tackled again in the future.

911 split

Then in early July, news broke that Boyle County was looking into the possibility of splitting from Danville for 911 service, going instead to Bluegrass 911, the dispatch center in Lancaster that serves Garrard and Lincoln counties.

It was also possible that Danville could join Boyle County in moving to Bluegrass 911, though Danville City Manager Ron Scott said the city had “many questions” and doubts about doing so.

The potential split placed further pressure on the questions surrounding the $700,000 in earmarked funds. In early July, Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said he didn’t have an answer yet on what could happen with the funds if Boyle stopped using Danville’s call center, but said he didn’t want to “burn bridges.”

“Those funds clearly belong to the (Danville) 911 center,” Scott said in response. “What does not belong to the 911 center perhaps are future county landline fees that are collected by the county.”

In mid-July, Magistrate Hendricks said Danville shouldn’t worry about getting the funding for call center upgrades from Boyle’s earmarked funds.

“We have done allocated that money and there’s no reason to continue carrying on a conversation — the public is sitting here wondering what’s going on?” Hendricks said at the time.

But the question of “whose money is it?” would continue to come up. City Manager Scott sent a memo in mid-July formally requesting the full $700,000 in earmarked funds be transferred to the city within 15 days.

But Boyle County did not comply with that request. Judge-Executive McKinney said the county consulted the state about who the money belonged to — the county that received the funds or the city that operates the 911 center — but the state “didn’t have anything definitive to say.”

Treasurer Conley said an interlocal agreement would be needed before the county would transfer the funds.

“There needs to be a mechanism in place and agreement on both ends,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s just going to be sheer chaos.”

Further fighting

In August, Danville asked the state auditor to audit the 911-earmarked funds being held by Boyle County, in an effort to determine who should hold the money.

Then in late August, Boyle County voted during a special called meeting on 911 to officially pursue an agreement with Bluegrass 911, seemingly solidifying the likelihood of a split from Danville.

In September, Danville City Commission authorized filing a “declaration of rights action” in court, alleging “official misconduct” by McKinney and the fiscal court concerning the 911 funding situation.

Mayor Mike Perros said in his motion to authorize the court action that “the failure of Boyle County to transfer said funds despite numerous requests by the city constitutes official misconduct by the Boyle Fiscal Court members and judge-executive for not performing their lawful duty of transferring tax funds for the specific purpose they were collected.”

It seemed the issue was boiling over, but less than a week later, the fiscal court reversed itself on the plan to move to Bluegrass 911.

The vote came following discussion of an open meetings complaint filed by The Advocate-Messenger, which alleged the county’s original Aug. 29 vote to pursue a merger with Bluegrass 911 was made improperly during a special called meeting, which had no action listed on its agenda.

Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean argued the county did not violate the Open Meetings Act by taking action, but recommended the court could still fulfill the newspaper’s request that the fiscal court re-vote on the action. The court chose to revote, but the result was very different: 6-1 against instead of 5-2 in favor.

McKinney was the only one who voted to continue to pursue an agreement with Bluegrass 911.

“The first thing we’ve got to remember doing anything on this court is the fact that our taxpayers are the number-one priorities. They elect us to come here and spend their money wisely,” Magistrate Phil Sammons said at the time. “… I thought that if everybody went together and went to Bluegrass, we’d save a lot of money, a lot of money — millions. But Danville didn’t see it that way. Therefore, we’ve got to back up and take another look at this old cow.”

Interlocal agreement

The 911 discussion got a lot quieter following Boyle’s reversal, and then at the end of November, it was revealed the two entities were close to finalizing an interlocal agreement that would solidify how the 911 dispatch service operates in the county.

Boyle and Danville did indeed reach an agreement, finalized on Dec. 1, which accomplishes several things:

• Boyle County will transfer its 911-earmarked funds to Danville as soon as the funds can be reconciled;

• Boyle County will transfer future 911 funds collected from the state and a local landline fee to Danville on a monthly basis;

• Danville will continue to operate its 911 call center and move forward with a relocation of the center to Danville City Hall, as well as implementation of “emergency medical dispatch” services;

• Boyle County will pay a percentage of the 911 center’s net operating costs based on the population of the unincorporated portions of the county;

• Danville will provide monthly and annual documentation of 911 spending to Boyle County so Treasurer Mary Conley can prove to auditors that 911-earmarked funds are being spent on qualified expenses;

• an advisory committee will meet at least quarterly with the ability to review budget items, voice concerns and make recommendations; and

• a grievance process will allow any complaints to be formally filed and dealt with appropriately.

Junction City has also signed on to the new agreement; Perryville and the Boyle County Fire Protection District are both expected to do the same this month.

Officials on both sides said they were proud of reaching a compromise that would protect and improve 911 service in Boyle County.

“Disagreement should not be seen as an inability to work together. Disagreement on how issues should be resolved is not only healthy for the development of public policy, but also critical to it,” Danville City Attorney Stephen Dexter said when Danville finalized the interlocal agreement. “Something like this, you want to have healthy debate, as long as it’s done professionally and fairly to everyone at the table.”