City council delays relocating 911 center

Published 8:33 am Friday, November 20, 2015

Unlike some recent Bogalusa City Council meetings, Tuesday’s regular session was focused on civil discourse and exchange of valid ideas.

Bogalusa Police Department officers were in attendance nonetheless, just in case discussions evolved into topics not associated with the subject at hand. Even during the often-contentious public participation segment, citizens asked valid questions concerning several procedures.

Among the questions asked were what procedures citizens should follow when they see things in the city that need correcting. Others asked why some citizens are not given as much time as others to address their concerns before the council. There was little finger-pointing, raised voices or name-calling during the process.

The evening’s most debated topic concerned the possible relocation of the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center from Bogalusa to near Sheridan, located in the center of Washington Parish. Most of those who addressed the council spoke against the ordinance.

Acting on a request by Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette, the council tabled the ordinance.

Bogalusa Police Dept. Sgt. James Cockrell spoke out against the proposal, citing an undue financial burden.

“The move would force the city to hire two additional dispatchers at a cost of $54,000, and that’s just in salary,” said Cockrell, a member of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. “Plus, there are four supervisors the city would have to hire. It’s a total of $260,000 in salaries. We’re also looking to upgrade equipment and we’re looking at a $300,000 cost to the city. There is no benefit for the city.”

Cockrell also asked the council to postpone the vote.

“It’s not worth it to move out there,” he said. “I ask you to postpone and not vote tonight and study the true figures. It’s not going to be only three dispatchers that will go out there.

“Sticking these women out there with no safety is not good. I can’t figure out how anybody is going to benefit from this.”

Cockrell said the 911 Center at the police department routinely receives domestic disturbance calls.

“We get calls all the time from women saying ‘my husband or boyfriend is chasing me,’” he said. “Dispatch tells them to come in to the police department and we let them in. Can you imagine anyone going out to the middle of the parish if things like that happen?”

Dispatch Supervisor Shauna Henke also spoke out against the proposal.

“The citizens of Washington Parish have put down the 911 tax repeatedly over the last few years,” Henke said. “A 911 service is already provided. We can do the job where we are for less money. If someone’s elderly parent comes in the office where we are, I can walk through the door and help. If we’re 10 miles out, we wouldn’t have the equipment to help elderly people hear our questions.”

The call center also serves as a “Safe Haven” drop off zone for troubled mothers who might abandon their children, officials said.

“It has happened here,” Henke said. “What are we going to do if a mother drops off her child and walks out? We have no one to sit with a child except officers who have to be pulled in off the street.

“We just don’t want our taxes spent on services we already have. We don’t want our taxes spent on equipment we already have.”

Perrette said she was willing to try the move, but said the cost could prevent the experiment.

“I’m not spending $300,000 to make it work,” Perrette said. “I think change is something that is scary. We’re not saying we’re moving tomorrow.

“There are kinks in the road, but there are a lot of pluses for it. There is going to be change in that department. The union was created to protect employees and set rules. I’m not violating that.”

City Councilman Brian McCree asked Police Chief Joe Culpepper for his opinion on the matter. Culpepper declined comment.

City Councilwoman Tamira Smith asked if the ordinance could be rescinded at a later date.

Perrette followed with her request to table the ordinance.

“I am going to follow the rules regarding 911,” Perrette said. “I’ve met with the police department and will be meeting with the fire department. We know without change we remain stagnant.

“We’ve had to get a grip on the city’s finances. I want you to make an educated decision on this. What we have been doing hasn’t been working. It’s time for a change for the police department, all the way up.”

• The council also tabled an ordinance to rescind Ordinance 2377. That ordinance allowed the city to take over maintenance of Columbia Street from the state in a Road Transfer Program. The area in question is Louisiana Highway 3124 from the Bogalusa corporate limit proceeding north approximately 2.75 miles to its intersection with Louisiana Highway 10, also known as Louisiana Avenue.

• In other business, the council designated Wednesday, Oct. 18 as Northshore Technical Community College 85-year Anniversary Day. NTCC College and Career Transition Coordinator Cynthia Smith accepted the designation on behalf of the school.

• The council accepted a resolution adopting the Washington Parish Hazard Mitigation Plan for 2015. The plan outlines disaster assistance funds reimbursed by FEMA.

• Ordinances were introduced amending the 2015 budget and another authorizing Perrette to contract with the successful bidder of The RFP for the Brownsfield Assessment Grant. Those ordinances will be open for public discussion before the council votes at the next meeting on Dec. 1.