Currently the board is made up of seven members. Two of those members must be nominated by the area police chiefs, two nominated by the fire chiefs, one by the area hospitals, one by the Parish Council and one by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. Six of those members are appointed by the Parish Council and one by the parish president.
The board maintains and controls the area 911 dispatch centers and equipment and has a budget funded through the collection of 911 fees.
It is charged with overseeing communications in the parish.
The proposal, as it was discussed at an agenda review meeting June 26, would change the make up of the board to include three Parish Council nominees, one parish president nominee, one nominee from the fire districts, one from the police chiefs and one nominee from the sheriff.
There was some concern at the agenda review committee that this new makeup would give parish government too much control over the board.
“I don’t believe we need three council members on the board and one from the parish president. We would control the board. I don’t see just one ‘Joe Citizen’ on the board,” Councilman Richard Tanner said.
Councilman Gene Bellisario, who currently sits on the board as the Parish Council appointment, said he supports the proposed new arrangement.
“I support having council members on the board,” Bellisario said. “The parish is going to be spending a lot of money on a new (radio) system.”
Bellisario said it is also a position that takes a lot of technical knowledge of the systems and its takes a lot of outside work on the board members to educate themselves.
“I just don’t agree that three council members would do a better job than one councilman and two citizens,” Tanner said. “We oversee a lot of commission and I don’t see why we need to pick one to run.” Buell also questions giving parish government a majority vote on the board.
He said he especially questions Bellisario’s reason and is concerned there is a miscommunication because the Communications Distirct/911 Board will not have any control over the money for the new radio system and will not be purchasing or managing the new parish-wide radio system.
The Communications District’s only role in the new system was to organize a committee in the past to determine its need and to join other entities in the parish in helping to fund it by paying the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office $350,000 a year to help the defray the cost of its operation, helping to make participation in the system more affordable for the smaller entities in an effort to encourage its parish wide use.
The new system, which would be purchase and operated by the Sheriff’s Office, would allow all entities on the system to communicate among themselves and with the state in the case of an emergency.
The goal is to at some point have all agencies in the state on radio systems that are compatible with the state system.
So far, Buell said, the Sheriff’s Office has verbal commitments from all of the larger police departments in the parish, Fire District 1, Fire District 4 and the parish Public Works Department.
Each user will pay an annual $1,200 per radio user fee to defray the cost of operating the new $14 million system.
Buell said it will cost and estimated $2 million to operate, pay off bonds and maintenance.
In addition each entity will have to purchase its radios at a cost of $3,700 a piece, and each entity must sign a 10-year commitment letter.
The parish is expected to have 400-600 users. Buell said that does add up to a hefty annual bill, and he thinks the confusion lies in that some members of the council believe that money goes into the Communications District/911 budget.
It does not, he said.
“We don’t have anything to do with the system. We are not going to run it,” Buell said.
He said 911 was asked to run the system but turned down that offer.
“We are just contributing to help pay for it like everyone else,” he said.
“Our primary job is 911. We support other things but we not going to do anything to hurt 911.”
Aside from a misunderstanding and possibly a disappointment in the board’s inability to get all fire districts and police departments to join together to be dispatched out of one location, Buell said he is not sure why the council wants to change the make up of the board.
“I am just not getting a straight answer,” he said. “We’ll see on July 11.”
Thursday evening the St. Tammany Parish Council will consider making changes to the makeup of the Communications District/911 Board.
However, the changes being proposed have the long-time chair of that board questioning why.
Tom Buell, who has served on the board for 25 years and is its current chairman, said he has had conversations with various councilmen about the proposed changes to be made to the board, but has yet to get a satisfactory answer as to why they are being made.