By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs’ six-month-old 911 call center is calling on the city for help.

First-year revenues for the Chattahoochee River 911 Authority, also called ChatComm, could be $2.3 million less than original projections, according to information given to members of Sandy Springs City Council during a recent meeting.

That will leave ChatComm almost $1.3 million short on its $5.6 million annual contract with iXP Corp., a New Jersey-based consultant firm that designed, built and operates the center.

In response, the city of Sandy Springs is shelling out $750,000 from its 2010 operating budget to subsidize ChatComm, which opened Sept. 1 at the corner of Barfield Road and Mount Vernon Highway. Johns Creek, the other city ChatComm provides emergency services, will allocate the remaining money.

“We have experienced some challenges,” Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough said in a ChatComm training room during a March 19 City Council Retreat.
Sandy Springs and Johns Creek set up the center to handle emergency calls and dispatch police and firefighters.

In July 2008 iXP predicted ChatComm would collect $6.7 million from the $1.50 emergency fees it collects from telephone providers in both cities it services. Residents pay the monthly fee for landlines, wireless phones and voice-over-IP capabilities.

“What we have experienced is certainly not at that level,” said Assistant City Manager Noah Reiter.
Actual revenues for both cities are averaging $365,000 per month, leading officials to think revenue will be under $4.4 million for the 12-month period ending in September.

ChatComm contends that staffing levels and performance at the new 911 center exceed the emergency services previously provided by Fulton County. In February, 88.4 percent of calls were answered in 10 seconds or less and 98 percent in 30 seconds or less. In the same month, 84 percent of calls were processed in 60 seconds or less. Fulton County never provided such data.

But ChatComm had hoped its annual revenue would not only cover operations but, in the first five years, begin to pay back capital expenditures for the $5.6 million center.

Reiter said inaccurate projections on fees collected for wireless and voice-over-IP subscribers were to blame for the revenue discrepancy.
“Performance and quality has not been affected by the revenue,” said Reiter, adding there are no plans to cut personnel or relax standards.
ChatComm is instead looking at options to generate more income.

One possibility is to collect more fees by servicing more people. Discussion is currently underway to provide emergency response to the city of Dunwoody.
“They are certainly very interested,” Reiter said. Dunwoody must give DeKalb County 180 days notice if it switches service to ChatComm, he said, so revenue from new subscribers will take at least six months.

Reiter and McDonough also said they are looking for savings in other areas of operation and have some funds to subsidize ChatComm. Fulton County recently reimbursed the city $135,000 since last year’s elections cost less than Sandy Springs paid. Contingency funds are also available.
No budget amendment is necessary to allocate $750,000 to ChatComm from the 2010 budget, said Reiter.