The Athens County Commissioners announced Tuesday they would not be proceeding immediately with litigation against Nelsonville, and instead authorized Commissioner Lenny Eliason to settle a police dispatching contract contract with the city manager.
The Athens Messenger reported last week that the Athens County Commissioners were discussing the possibility of litigation against the City of Nelsonville for what Eliason maintained was a breach of a police dispatching contract.
Eliason said the commissioners are of the belief Nelsonville provided official notice that it was terminating its contract with the county for emergency police dispatching when the city voted to terminate it on Jan. 4, 2021.
In early January, Nelsonville City Council voted to terminate their contract for 911 emergency services through the county, and voted to instead negotiate with Hocking College for a new contract.
Eliason told The Athens Messenger he would be negotiating with Frank to settle the contract. Eliason declined to provide any more information regarding negotiations.
However, Eliason did not rule out the possibility of litigation in the future, saying that it “depends on what the settlement is.”
Commissioners Chris Chmiel and Charlie Adkins declined to comment on the development.
Nelsonville officials argue that the commissioners released the city from the contract in July 2020 during a commissioners meeting, The Athens Messenger reported. Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank restated his argument that Nelsonville was already released.
“The fact they even threatened to sue their own taxpayers is shameful,” Frank told The Athens Messenger. “I can only imagine how Nelsonville will be retaliated against in the future.”
Frank said he intends to bill Athens County for the new sales tax passed in Nov. 2020, which levies a .25% increase on sales tax to fund the new 911 center.
Frank said he believes since the city will not be seeing the full benefit of 911 services provided through the sales tax, the county should compensate the city a third of the sales tax it pays to offset the police dispatching services Nelsonville is contracting through Hocking College.
“I’m going to bill them for all the tax monies they’re collecting from residents of Nelsonville,” Frank told The Athens Messenger.
Nelsonville Councilmember Greg Smith told The Athens Messenger that he thinks Nelsonville and Athens County’s priority should be to “see the residents of Nelsonville get the same service as the rest of Athens County.”
Smith continued, saying he realizes Nelsonville City Council made a mistake in not joining Athens County police dispatching when it formed in the 1990s, but that all parties should be invested in solving the problem.
Smith previously dismissed the lawsuit as an empty threat, The Athens Messenger reported.
During Monday night’s Nelsonville City Council meeting, council member Dan Sherman read a statement supporting Frank’s response to the Athens County Commissioners.
“For too many years, the Athens County Commissioners have treated the City of Nelsonville like a cash cow,” Sherman said. “Our citizens deserve better, and they should remember that when they are treated that way.”
“Take a look at it again when it comes time to vote for the county commissioners.”
Athens County 911 Director Teresa Fouts-Imler did not respond to inquiries by publication time.
Police dispatching services have been a continuing source of consternation for Nelsonville residents.
In 1995, Nelsonville City Council did not agree to join the newly forming Athens County EMS dispatching service, Smith told The Athens Messenger.
In 2004, Nelsonville negotiated a contract with the county to handle the city’s emergency 911 dispatching for around $48,000 per year. The new contract with Hocking College would include emergency and non-emergency dispatching.
Prior to the trial period with Hocking College, Nelsonville did not have a permanent non-emergency dispatcher to answer phone calls for nuisance complaints or the like.
According to Smith, this would often lead to situations where callers would reach a voicemail.
“When someone calls the police they don’t want to listen for the answering machine and get a call back, they want service now,” Smith told The Messenger.
Frank described the previous level of service as “abysmal,” and said Nelsonville officers spent 100 hours last year correcting bad records, and said a stack of warrants was never put in the database.
The ordinance passed in January by Nelsonville City Council authorizes Frank to negotiate up to $70,000 toward the new contract.
In an email correspondence between former Interim Athens County 911 Director Aaron Maynard and Frank, Maynard quoted approximately $120,000 for a new contract that would include emergency and non-emergency dispatching services.
Maynard anticipated the dispatching center would process a volume of five to six thousand calls from Nelsonville per year if they negotiated with the city –meaning the cost would be around $20 dollars per phone call for Nelsonville residents.
According to an audit conducted by the City of Nelsonville, the city has paid $665,568.16 toward police dispatching services since 2005.