MECA board approves 2014 budget

The Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association’s board of directors on Friday approved a 2014 budget for the agency that includes an increase of about $10,000 over this year’s budget.

Most of the increase was caused by higher insurance premiums.

The total 2014 budget is $1,750,265. Most of that total — $1.442 million — consists of salaries and benefits. This year’s total budget was $1,740,853.

The agency is funded by money received from a fee that is included on both cellular and land line phone bills, and on a percentage basis by user agencies, with Pine Bluff paying the largest share.

Specifically, Pine Bluff contributes 70.76 percent of the agency funding. In 2013, that amounted to $576,033 while next year, that figure will be $633,605. Jefferson County contributes 25.35 percent, which breaks down to $206,366 for 2013 and $226,991 next year.

As it has for several years, revenue from land line use is projected to decline next year compared to this year, while revenue from cellular phone use is expected to increase.

According to the budget figures, $411,500 is expected to be collected in taxes on cellular phones. That’s $34,000 more than this year, while taxes on land line phones are expected to generate $327,200, $7,000 less than this year.

The MECA Board is composed of County Judge Dutch King, Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, White Hall Mayor Noel Foster representing the 9-1-1 Administrative Board, the police chief of Pine Bluff, the chief of the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department, the Jefferson County Sheriff and the coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management.

In addition to King, Hollingsworth and Foster, Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell and OEM Coordinator Karen Quarles were present at Friday’s meeting. Sheriff Gerald Robinson was absent.

Before the MECA Board meeting, the 9-1-1 Administrative Board met briefly to transfer the money from those phone company fees to the MECA budget.

“We only meet once a year but it’s an important meeting to transfer the 9-1-1 funds,” said Foster, who is chairman of the board . “MECA has to have money to answer the phones down there and dispatch the calls.”

In previous years, the 9-1-1 board has set aside money, based on a projected surplus, into a reserve fund but Foster said that will not happen this year because there is no surplus.

He said there is currently just over $434,000 in that reserve fund, and only the board can authorize its use, which Foster said could be if there are equipment failures and the like.

“Rather than having to go to the agencies for more money, we can use the reserve fund,” Foster said.