City Residents Will Pay More For 911 Than Rest of County

Despite the Jan. 1 transfer of the Wheeling-Ohio County 911 Communications Center from city to county control, taxpayers within Wheeling city limits still will spend $166,000 more than other county residents to operate the facility this fiscal year.

The city spent $377,000 to operate the 911 center during the first six months of the fiscal year before turning over control of the facility to county officials, City Manager Robert Herron said last week during a meeting of City Council’s Finance Committee.

The city will pay another $18,000 for radio equipment maintenance, Herron said, bringing Wheeling’s total tab for the center to $395,000.

The county commission historically has reimbursed Wheeling for running the center through 911 fees tacked onto all residents’ monthly phone bills.

But lately, that reimbursement has fallen short of covering the center’s operating costs, leaving city taxpayers to pick up the slack.

County commissioners had budgeted $250,000 to reimburse Wheeling for running the center – half the $500,000 the commission typically pays for a full year – but Herron said the city will only receive $229,000.

The other $21,000 was deducted as the result of a “retention issue” negotiated with county officials, he said.

According to Mayor Andy McKenzie, the “retention issue” dealt with benefits for center employees at the time of their transfer from the city to the county payroll.

All of the center’s employees were accepted by the county, which offers more lucrative health benefits than the city’s.

Wheeling pays 80 percent of employee health premiums, while the county covers 100 percent of premiums and deductibles.

The city already has received $120,000 of the amount promised from the county, with another $109,000 still owed, Herron said.

The city will continue to pay $18,000 annually for equipment maintenance, he said.

Until the Jan. 1 transfer, Wheeling had been the only municipality in West Virginia in charge of a 911 center.

During the 2012-13 fiscal year, the city spent about $684,000 to operate the facility, despite only receiving $500,000 back from the county – meaning Wheeling taxpayers paid $184,000 to run the center over and above the 911 fees the county collected.

That led Herron in July to propose shedding that expense by asking the county to assume responsibility.

Negotiations continued into December, when county commissioners approved the agreement to take over the center.

Located in the basement of the City-County Building, the 911 center has dispatched for every agency in the county – including the sheriff’s office and volunteer fire departments – since 1998.