By James Minton
November 20, 2012
CLINTON — The governing board for the East Feliciana Parish Emergency Communications District rejected the sheriff’s request Friday for more money to answer 911 calls and said it will take over the responsibility.
Sheriff Talmadge Bunch last week notified the district he would discontinue providing 911 call-takers after Nov. 19 unless the district increases the amount it pays the Sheriff’s Office for the service.
The board, which includes representatives of municipalities, Bunch, the Police Jury, and East Feliciana Parish’s police and fire departments, approved a letter prepared before Friday’s meeting that outlines its plans to hire its own personnel and eventually move them from the Parish Jail to the district’s own building.
The letter warns Bunch that the district owns equipment in the jail he needs to dispatch deputies and personnel with other agencies.
The letter says the district will no longer pay for maintenance on the equipment, but will allow the sheriff to use it for four months “to help insure the safety of the citizens of this parish.”
After four months, the district would be willing to sell or lease the equipment to the sheriff, the letter says, warning that a new system will cost the sheriff approximately $250,000.
“If we pull out of our equipment, they’re left with a telephone and a radio and no way to dispatch,” board Chairman Bill Ford said after the meeting.
Parish Jail Warden Ray Newman, Bunch’s representative on the board, disputed Ford’s statement.
“It’s not going to cost us a cent. We have all the equipment we need to dispatch,” Newman said, adding that Bunch plans to let the parish’s municipal police departments and fire districts know that he will continue to dispatch them to calls for the same compensation he now receives.
Bunch told the district in a letter last week his personnel costs for 911 operators total more than $316,000 a year, but the Sheriff’s Office only receives about $94,000 a year from the district, plus $25,800 from participating police and fire districts.
Bunch has no legal obligation to provide call-takers, and the commission has not lived up to the terms of its contract with the sheriff, said Craig E. Frosch, an attorney representing the sheriff and the Louisiana Sheriffs Association.
“The sheriff is not going to endanger the safety of the parish,” Frosch said, but added, in the long-term, he does not see the sheriff providing 911 call-takers.