An order filed Thursday explains in detail a superior court judge’s ruling regarding 911 funding which the city of Roanoke Rapids raised objections to in a complaint.
Judge Jeffrey Foster ultimately ruled in the county’s favor January 4.
“The court specifically concludes as a matter of law that, with respect to the costs of a PSAP (public safety answering points) that must be funded from local revenues, a PSAP provider, such as the defendant in this action, is entitled to remuneration from all other local governments in the PSAP service area that use that PSAP in order to comply with their statutory mandate to ‘participate in a 911 system,’” the order says. “Notwithstanding the obligation of a PSAP provider to receive emergency calls and dispatch appropriate emergency responders for all public service agencies in its service area, the local cost of operating the PSAP cannot be borne by the PSAP provider alone.”
Foster ruled that based on what is described as undisputed facts and conclusions of law, the court found that Halifax County is entitled to summary judgment and denied the city’s motion for summary judgment.
Foster ruled that since the county is the sole PSAP provider that it makes its system available to all local governments in Halifax County by providing call taking.
“In the absence of an interlocal agreement providing otherwise, each PSAP user shall contribute to the annual personnel budget of the PSAP provider based upon the percentage of total call volume attributable to the public safety services provided within the jurisdiction of that PSAP user, regardless of whether those public safety services are provided directly or by contract with another local government or third party,” the judge ruled.
The percentage of call volume is based upon call volume for the full calendar year immediately preceding the fiscal year of the PSAP provider for which the PSAP user's budget contribution amount is being calculated.
Contributions from PSAP users are made on a quarterly basis during the fiscal year based upon the amount budgeted for PSAP personnel. “At the end of the fiscal year, if actual personnel expenses exceed budgeted expenses, additional contributions will be made within 30 days of notice of the same,” the order says. “If actual personnel expenses are less than budgeted expenses, then the PSAP provider shall credit the overage to the next fiscal year's contribution.”
All local governments in Halifax County must participate in a 911 system as required under state statutes by taking and responding to calls for emergency services only through a PSAP authorized to operate in Halifax County by the North Carolina 911 Board.
The order recognizes the authority of local governments to enter into joint undertakings by interlocal agreement.
The order also says that notwithstanding the funding parameters set forth in the judgment, all local governments in Halifax County are free to formulate their own funding terms and conditions with respect to local funding for the PSAP that provides access to a 911 system in Halifax County.
The judgment is fully binding on all governments in the county.
Foster’s ruling noted the essential controversy between the plaintiff and the defendant concerned responsibility for local funding of the Halifax County Central Communications Center.
The city contended that the county is required by law to provide 911 call taking services for the city and its public safety agencies without any remuneration to the county for the costs of 911 call taking services.
The county contended that all municipalities within the county that require 911 call taking services for their public safety agencies must help defray the county’s cost of 911 call taking services not covered by state 911 Board funds based upon their respective call volumes. “There is a genuine justiciable controversy between the parties,” the order says.
The city, the county and the towns of Enfield, Halifax, Hobgood, Littleton, Scotland Neck and Weldon signed stipulations regarding the non-joinder of other parties filed on September 14, 2022, by which the other municipalities seek to avoid the expense of being joined in this litigation and agree to accept the final outcome of this litigation as binding on each of them as if they had actually participated in the proceedings.
The county, through its Halifax County Central Communications Center, operates the only public safety answering point in Halifax County.
Prior to January 1998, the city, the county and the other municipalities in Halifax County operated separate call centers for taking emergency telephone calls and dispatching appropriate emergency services within their respective jurisdictions.
Even after the implementation of basic 911 services in Halifax County, the city, the county and the other municipalities continued to take calls and dispatch services from their own call centers.
In January 1998, the Halifax County Central Communications Center was opened, making enhanced 911 services available in Halifax County.
Each municipality that had a call center was able to close its call center and contribute financially to the local cost of the new central communications center.
Over the years, various agreements have been in place between the county and the municipalities regarding the sharing of local funding necessary to operate the central communications center.
The municipalities do not contribute for expenses that are covered by funds received by the county from the North Carolina 911 board.
The most recent local funding agreement was negotiated in 2021 with all municipalities in Halifax County except the city.
This interlocal agreement with the other municipalities calls for each municipality to provide a share of the funding for the cost of PSAP personnel based upon the percentage of the call volume attributable to that municipality.
City’s 12-month notice
On June 29, 2021, the city gave a 12-month notice to the county that it would cease its financial support of the Halifax County Central Communications Center effective July 1, 2022.
“Therefore, there is no interlocal agreement in place between the plaintiff and the defendant concerning local funding for the central communications center for FY 2022-23,” the order says.
In calendar year 2021, 24 percent of the calls received and dispatched by the Halifax County Central Communications Center were attributable to the public safety agencies of the city of
Roanoke Rapids. “The defendant has continued to provide the same level of call taking and dispatch for all the plaintiff’s public safety agencies.”
Thus far, in fiscal year 2022-23, the county has invoiced the city in the amount of $203,431.50 for its share of the local cost of operating the central communications center, based upon the percentage of the calls taken and dispatched on behalf of the city in calendar year 2021.
The city contended that it should not be required to make payment to the county.
Foster noted in the order that the county is the sole PSAP and receives limited funding from the state 911 board.
In FY 2020-21, the county received $29,998.34 per month; in FY 2021-22, $30,347.54 per month; and in the current fiscal year the county is receiving $16,392.26 per month.
The level of monthly funding is determined by the 911 board.
The order says there are strict limitations on the use of the 911 board funding and any local government that receives state 911 funds must deposit those funds in a separate special revenue fund designated as the Emergency Telephone System Fund.
This state funding cannot be used for personnel costs associated with the operation of the PSAP.
Costs of operating a PSAP that cannot be funded from state 911 funds must be paid for with local government revenues. “At all times since the inception of the Halifax County Central Communications Center, those local revenues have come from both the county and all municipalities in Halifax County that have public safety agencies.”
The order notes that for FY 2022-23, the county’s budget for the total cost of PSAP operations that must be funded by local revenues is $1,695,264.
Of that amount, the budgeted cost of PSAP personnel is $1,552,720.00.
The state 911 board requires that 90 percent of emergency calls received by a PSAP must be answered within 10 seconds, and 95 percent of emergency calls must be answered within 20 seconds.
Accordingly, the volume of emergency calls handled by a PSAP impacts the number of telecommunicators required.
The establishment and operation of a PSAP is not an exclusive county function. A review of the list of PSAPs in North Carolina published by the state 911 board reveals that not every county in the state operates a PSAP, while many municipalities do. “In particular, it is noted that the only PSAP providing service in Lee County is operated by the city of Sanford Police Department.”
Conclusions of law
“Every local government must participate in a 911 system. This means that every local government which has public safety agencies requiring emergency response … must either operate a PSAP or have access to a PSAP as part of its public safety services,” the order says. “The defendant participates in a 911 system by operating a PSAP. The plaintiff and other municipalities participate in a 911 system by having access to the PSAP provided by the defendant.”
The order notes that no local government has direct statutory authority to levy property taxes or borrow money for the establishment and operation of a PSAP, or to gain access to a PSAP, in order to participate in a 911 system.
However, they do have indirect authority to do so as part of the cost of providing public safety services.
The order says that counties do not have statutory authority to levy and expend property taxes for the establishment and operation of a PSAP, or to gain access to a PSAP.
Similarly, cities do not have direct statutory authority to levy or expend property taxes for the establishment and operation of a PSAP, or to gain access to a PSAP.
“Part of the necessary cost of providing each of these public safety functions necessarily includes the cost of participating in a 911 system,” the order says. “Moreover, such costs cannot be imposed exclusively on the PSAP provider. To do so would violate the constitutional and statutory limitation on the PSAP provider's authority to levy taxes to fund the PSAP solely in support of the PSAP provider's own public safety agencies and not the public safety agencies of other local governments that are afforded access to its PSAP.”
The order says there are also limitations on the authority of local governments to borrow money or issue bonds for capital projects. Among the 26 purposes listed, borrowing money for construction, expansion or improvements to PSAPs is not included. “Local governments derive the ability to borrow funds for PSAPs indirectly through their actual statutory authority to borrow money in support of their respective public safety services.”