CLINTON — Citing a financial burden, East Feliciana Parish Sheriff Talmadge Bunch said his staff will discontinue answering 911 emergency telephone calls within the next month unless he gets more money.
Bunch, in a letter dated Friday, notified the board that oversees the 911 system’s operations that his office has “borne the lion’s share” of personnel costs involved in taking 911 calls from the public.
“In years past, the Sheriff’s Office has simply absorbed these costs in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation,” Bunch wrote, but added he cannot continue the arrangement without additional funds from the Emergency Communications District or other agencies participating in the system.
Bill Ford, chairman of the communication district’s Board of Commissioners, said Monday the board will meet at 9 a.m. Friday to discuss the sheriff’s letter.
Parish Jail Warden Ray Newman, who represents Bunch on the board, said he made a request for more money at the last meeting but was turned down.
He said the board members stated they would have their accountant write a letter to Bunch outlining their reasons for not increasing the appropriation, but Bunch has not received such a letter.
The 911 call takers and emergency telephone system are housed in a room with Sheriff’s Office dispatchers at the Parish Jail.
When calls are received that require emergency responses, the staff dispatches the appropriate police or sheriff’s deputies on duty, Acadian Ambulance personnel or fire departments.
Ford said the district is working on a short-term plan to take over call-taking duties while continuing to operate from the jail.
The district employees would only take the calls and forward them to dispatchers, Ford said.
The district’s ultimate goal would be to move the operations to its own building, he said.
The board declared its intention in December to purchase a building, the district’s latest audit report says.
Bunch’s letter says the district is willing to put up only $119,777 annually, which includes $10,800 from municipal police departments and $15,000 from the parishwide fire protection district.
The sheriff said his staff has shown the board that direct personnel costs to the Sheriff’s Office amount to $316,722
annually, or more than twice the amount the district allocates.
“The Sheriff’s Office can no longer suffer this burden, along with other hidden costs and associated liability exposure, without placing its other public safety services at risk,” the letter says, adding that the Sheriff’s Office is not legally or contractually obligated to provide the service.
A “memorandum of understanding” among the agencies expired July 1, the letter says.
The East Feliciana Parish Police Jury created the district, which levies a 1-mill property tax and a surcharge on telephone bills.
The property tax brought in $99,567 for the budget year that ended Dec. 31, while the telephone surcharge netted $208,716, the audit report says.