DeKalb County landline telephone subscribers have been paying the same rates for 911 services since 1994, but that may change this summer.
Facing ever increasing costs and declining revenues due to fewer landline telephones, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District (911 board of directors) is seeking an 85 cent per month increase for residential lines and a $1.00 increase per month for business lines. The proposed increase is expected to generate more than $88,000 per year.
In a meeting Tuesday evening at the courthouse, the local 911 board adopted a resolution seeking approval from the Tennessee Emergency Communications District (state 911 board) to increase the rate for residential lines from the current rate of 65 cents per line to $1.50 per line per month. The rate for business lines would go from $2.00 to $3.00 per month. The effective date of the proposed increase would be 60 days after the state 911 board gives its approval, should it do so.
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Brad Mullinax, Director of the DeKalb County 911 Center, said the rate increase is needed "We have seen a decrease in the number of landlines over the years. That's not cell phones but the telephones you have in your house. It is and has been the basis of our funding since 1994 when 911 was first set up in DeKalb County. But over the last several years, people have been dropping their landlines and going exclusively with cell phones because its cheaper for them. The problem is it affects 911 services because that's where our funding comes from. For at least the past three years we've seen about a seven percent decrease in our funding from our landline 911 rates. Our revenue is going down but our costs keep going up."
Mullinax adds that while the local 911 operation does receive funds from cell phones, it has no control over those rates. " We do get money from cell phones and there's often times a misconception about that. You are paying a dollar surcharge on each cell phone you have. If you have three cell phones then you're paying a $3.00 911 surcharge. The problem is that the State of Tennessee keeps 75% of that money and we are allocated only 25% of that wireless money based on our population. Even though just about everybody has a cell phone, we don't get anywhere close to receiving the amount of money we need from cell phones to support us. From my understanding, it would take a change of state law to change the way the money is allocated or the fee that is charged on a cell phone."
As for budget cuts, Mullinax said 911 really can't cut anywhere without affecting services. " We staff two full time dispatchers all the time on each shift. We run twelve hour shifts. It would be a major safety concern to decrease that number to one dispatcher per shift. If someone gets sick or has to go to the restroom or something like that, we could have a major problem if we didn't have someone to answer the phones so we don't want to go below that two person minimum. We've got a few part timers that we use to fill in shifts but there's really no waste in our agency. We need two folks (dispatchers) to answer the calls all the time."
The local 911 board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, March 22nd at 6:00 p.m. in the basement courtroom of the courthouse to give the public a chance to comment or learn more about the proposal.
Members of the board are Chairman Ron Rogers, Billy Adcock , County Commissioners Wayne Cantrell, Marshall Ferrell, Elmer Ellis, Jr., and Jerry Scott, Smithville Alderman Steve White, and County Mayor Mike Foster.
The resolution states as follows:
"Whereas (state law) authorizes the State 911 Board to raise the landline 911 rates for the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District; and
Whereas, said statute has as its general purpose that any 911 district must meet financial and operational criteria established by the State 911 board to justify any increase in the landline 911 rates; and
Whereas, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District desires to increase its landline 911 rates from the rate of .65 cents for residential lines to $1.50 and the rate of $2.00 for Business landlines to $3.00 and
Whereas, the rate of increase proposed above would generate additional revenue in the amount of $88,160 per year. The annual increase in revenue is based upon the current number of landlines and a forecast of a 7-9% decrease in landlines for the next three years respectively; and
Whereas, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District desires the effective date for the rate increase to be 60 days after the State Emergency Communications Board approval; and
Whereas, the revenue generated by the landline 911 rates have historically increased in DeKalb County 1% to 2% annually, but during the 2003-2010 fiscal years landlines have declined by 19% and it is projected that landlines will continue to decrease at a level of 7-9% per year for the foreseeable future; and
Whereas, the appropriations made by DeKalb County, the City of Smithville, and the City of Alexandria to the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District have increased for the last three years, but due to budgetary constraints for the County and Cities they will not be able to increase funding to the level needed to fully fund operations of the District; and
Whereas, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District desires to provide the ability to respond to any potential terrorist act by having the ability to receive, process, and disseminate information and to coordinate a unified response by all emergency agencies in DeKalb County, and
Whereas, by reason of the foregoing, it is the considered opinion of the Board of Directors of the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District that a resolution be passed requesting the State 911 Board to approve an increase in landline rates for DeKalb County.
Now therefore, be it resolved by the Board of Directors of the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District, in regular session duly assembled, a quorum being present, as follows:
1. That as of the date of this resolution that it is hereby requested that the State 911 Board increase the landline 911 rates from .65 cents to $1.50 for residential lines and to increase the rate of $2.00 to $3.00 for Business landlines. The effective date for said increase to be 60 days after State Emergency Communications Board approval.
2. The Board of Directors hereby recommend this increase for the purpose of improving the district's ability to provide enhanced 911 service to the citizens of DeKalb County.
3. All resolutions in conflict herewith be, and the same are hereby rescinded insofar, as such conflict exists and this resolution shall become effective upon its passage."