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County fee proposed for Internet phone users
Juvenile court, police seek federal stimulus grants

By Joel Hall

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners wants to charge the county's voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) users $1.50 per month for 911 services.

Officials in the county's police department, and juvenile court, also want to apply for grants of $670,000 each to increase their manpower, and purchase cars.

Before decisions are reached, the board will conduct public hearings on the requests during its regular business meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m., to give residents a chance to weigh in on the discussions.

Kristy Rohm, Clayton County 911 operations manager, said for several years, land line users, and wireless phone users in unincorporated Clayton County, Jonesboro, and Lovejoy, have been charged $1.50 per month to pay for 911 emergency services. If approved by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, the county also would apply the charge to residents who use VoIP phone systems, such as Vonage.

"We are already receiving VoIP calls in the 911 center," said Rohm. "The people that use this service are not paying the $1.50. The money that [the county] collects for the emergency fund goes toward maintaining the system, salaries for 911 employees, [and] any kind of hardware/software maintenance issues.

"We're not budgeted by the county budget," she continued. "We're budgeted strictly out of 911 funds ... those come from the $1.50 we collect."

Rohm said the $1.50 charge would help pay salaries of the 40-member 911 center staff of dispatchers in training, senior dispatchers, and supervisors.

The other public hearings Tuesday will focus on separate grant applications from the county's police and juvenile court, for $670,000 each, from the Edward Byrne Memorial Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program.

The police department plans to use the money to open three new officer positions and purchase six additional police cruisers. The juvenile court wants to create three new positions in its child welfare division, and four new positions in its delinquent unit.

Police Chief Jeff Turner said the grant program has received a substantial boost from President Barack Obama's recently-passed stimulus package, and believes the police department stands to share in the benefit.

"This allows us to hire additional personnel without affecting the county's budget," he said. "We have a number of cars that are over 100,000 miles. This would allow us to add some new cars to our aging fleet."

Adolphus Graves, chief of staff of the juvenile court, said the court's Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which falls under its child welfare division, will lose its part-time volunteer supervisor position once a grant that funds the position expires in October.

Graves said the Byrne grant would allow the court to hire a full-time volunteer supervisor, and a part-time supervisor for the CASA program, and a program assistant for child welfare as a whole. The grant would also fund three part-time juvenile court officers, and one part-time program assistant for its delinquent division.

"As the child welfare issues in the country have continued to grow, the work of our child welfare unit has grown quite a bit," said Graves. "We really want to create new positions that we have not been able to ask for due to financial constraints."

Graves said within 90 days of receiving the grant money, the court would be able to hire the seven people in those positions for a total of four years. He said those positions will be critical to helping the court maintain its delinquent-behavior diversion programs.

"We're talking about providing very important information to a child who may be considering delinquent behavior, but hasn't gotten engaged," Graves said. "You're holding the child and the parents accountable by making them report to these programs. I think it's a very important tool we have in keeping our county safe."