MECA board approves 2013 budget

A 2013 budget of just over $1.74 million was approved by the board of the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association (MECA) Tuesday morning.

The proposed budget calls for spending $1,740,853 next year, a majority of that, $1.4 million plus, will go for salaries and benefits for employees.

Karen Quarles, coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management and MECA director, said the proposed budget called for the same expenditures as in 2012, with the exception of a slight increase that resulted from an increase in retirement benefit contributions.

Projected maintenance and operational costs next year were set at the same level as 2012 spending, with the exception of almost $128,000 that had been budgeted for an upgrade to software at the dispatch center. That upgrade was paid for in large part by the Emergency Telephone Services Board (ETSB) which recently sent MECA a check for $101,000.

Questioned by Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., who served as chairman of the MECA board this year, Melinda Elliott, MECA operations manager, said the remainder of the money for the upgrades were included in the 2012 budget.

The MECA board is composed of the mayor of Pine Bluff, Jefferson County judge, the police and fire chiefs from Pine Bluff, the Jefferson County sheriff, the coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management and the chairman of the 9-1-1 Administrative Board, who is White Hall Mayor Noel Foster.

Prior to the MECA board meeting, the 9-1-1 board approved the transfer of $711,700 from 9-1-1 funds into the MECA budget for next year.

“We only meet once a year but we have an important job and that’s to transfer money into the MECA budget,” Foster said.

The transfer will include $100,000 that will be placed into the MECA reserve fund, which Foster said was necessary in the event repairs or upgrades to the dispatch equipment were needed.

Asked by Pine Bluff Mayor-elect Debe Hollingsworth how much was currently in the reserve fund, Foster said $330,000.

Hollingsworth and County Judge-elect Dutch King attended both the 9-1-1 and MECA board meetings and will assume positions on the board when they take office Jan. 1. Because the chairmanship of the board rotates between the county judge and Pine Bluff mayor, King will be board chairman in 2013.

Current Jefferson County Judge Mike Holcomb said that when the Pine Bluff Arsenal was still in the process of disposing of chemical weapons, upgrades and repairs were taken care of by the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, but since they shut down, those funds are no longer available.

MECA is paid for by funds collected on cellular and land line telephones, and by user agencies on a proportional basis, based on usage, with the city of Pine Bluff being responsible for 70.767 percent of the total costs, and Jefferson County contributing an additional 25.35 percent.

Because of carry-over funds, agency users will be paying slightly less next year than they are this year, with Pine Bluff being billed for $576,033 next year, just over $3,000 less than this year. Jefferson County will be paying just over $1,500 less in 2012, while White Hall’s bill will be slightly over $100 less.