By Glenn Collins
Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | 11:20 AM
Word on the street and chat on the internet came alive in recent weeks, several months after the Winston County Emergency Communications District, commonly referred to as the “911 Board,” increased the user fee to $4.75 per land-line connection. This will all be moot come October, 2013.
When someone dials “9-1-1” on their phone or mobile device, they expect it to work. Without proper funding, the system will fail. With land-line connections dwindling rapidly and shrinking the revenue pool, and with no control over fees charged for mobile connections, rural ECDs throughout the state are battling to operate in the black, or, at least, not in the red. Winston County's ECD has operated in the red since 2006. Good thing there was money in the bank.
|This graphic shows the steady dip in revenues since 2007 and prior to the 2011 rate increase.|
-- graphic provided by WC ECD
Enter a new law, HB89. ECD charges will be set, collected, and distrubuted to local ECDs by s state board. Land-line connection charges will, according to several sources, drop below $2 in October, 2013.
Why the increase between now and then? That answer is very complicated and resides mostly in the 68 pages of HB89.
The State 9-1-1 Board will set rates beginning in October, 2013. The new law says, “The initial statewide 911 charge shall be developed by the 911 Board at an amount calculated to produce, after deduction of administrative fees specified in this chapter, annual total revenues equal to the annual 911 fees collected by or on behalf of, or owed to, districts and governmental bodies, as calculated for purposes of the base distribution amount ….” [Emphasis added.]
Haleyville Police Chief Kyle Reogas, the Winston County ECD Chairman, said, “For months I was reluctant to increase the user fee, as were the other board members.” After Reogas learned that HB89 was to become law, he knew, “Something had to be done and done now to ensure financial stability into the future.”
That statement is critical and “now” is the operative word. The new law goes on to say that all the calculations will be based on rates in effect no later than April 30, 2012. With that in mind, approximately half of the state's 88 ECDs changed their rates in the period between January 1 and April 30 of this year.
The new law takes away the local ECDs authority to collect user fees. Under the new law, a state board will set and collect the rates for all connections, land-line and wireless. That money will be distributed to the local districts. Conventional wisdom puts the new 9-1-1 charge somewhere under the $2 mark. In Winston County, that will be a decrease for land-lines to, or below, the 1996 level. However, mobile connection charges, which are currently 70-cents, will likely rise to the same rate.
The law says, “The 911 Board shall certify that the initial statewide 911 charge adopted herein is reasonably calculated so as not to exceed the funding requirements of this act.” That indicates that the ECDs will receive what they need to operate in the black.
The linchpin of the E911 system is the “switch.” Without this contoller, 9-1-1 does not work. According to ECD Director Tim Webb, “The current (switch) had it’s last major upgrade in 2003 and is essentially at the end of it’s useful life and parts are no longer manufactured for it.” Replacement cost for a new “switch”: $252,000. Good thing there is money in the bank.