November 9, 2014
KENTUCKY (11/9/14) — Local government officials across the state are asking the 2015 General Assembly to increase the wireless fee for enhanced 911 service as more and more Kentuckians move from wireline to wireless phones.
Local governments want lawmakers to pass legislation during the upcoming regular legislative session that either raises the statewide Commercial Mobile Radio Service Board wireless fee to a “reasonable level” or allows cities and counties to assess their own wireless 911 fee to fund 911 services, Bardstown Mayor and Kentucky League of Cities President Bill Sheckles told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government last month.
“If the General Assembly is going to refuse to raise the statewide CMRS fee, which is set in statute, then it should no longer preempt local governments from assessing local fees on wireless subscribers,” said Sheckles.
Most of the cost for 911 today, 40 percent, is assumed by local government through their General Funds, Sheckles said, quoting a 2013 CMRS report. That has forced “both cities and counties to use more and more General Fund resources to maintain this most essential governmental service,” he added. Wireless fees only cover 23 percent of local 911 funding while 30 percent is covered by fees on landlines, Sheckles said.
The current fee paid by many cell phone carriers for 911 service in Kentucky is 70 cents per month, according to state law, while the CMRS reports that monthly landline fees in Kentucky range from 32 cents to $4.
Speaking for the Kentucky Association of Counties, LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner said local governments have been able to consolidate some of their Public Safety Answering Points, or 911 call centers, with the number of PSAPs statewide currently at 116. Kentucky has 120 counties, indicating that consolidation has taken place. Even so, Turner echoed Sheckles’ sentiment that increased wireless 911 funding is a priority for his agency’s members.
“E911 is the first link for help in an emergency situation and is one that citizens assume and demand to always be fully functional and accessible,” said Turner, adding that counties are not asking the state for direct funding for E911. What is requested, he explained, is the ability to “correct the imbalance” in E911 funding streams.
“It’s become an unsustainable amount (we counties have to pay) given the limits of local governments to raise revenues combined with the unfunded or underfunded mandates that fiscal courts continually have to address,” Turner told the panel.
For his part, Committee Co-Chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said this may be a time to look more broadly at the 911 issue and scope out possible inefficiencies.
“I’m not trying to be negative…but when we do these types of things I think we’re shortsighted many times because we don’t identify inefficiencies—we just want to throw more money at issues a lot of times. I would encourage the League to take a broad comprehensive look” at 911 call centers and possibly consolidation of those centers, said Bowen. Those sentiments were echoed by Co-Chair Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, who chaired the meeting.
“So we’ve got all this cost and administration and management and boards all for 116 different little PSAPs and we wonder if that’s the most efficient way, but there’s been no talk about (it),” said Riggs, adding there must not be a “big desire” to consolidate some services.
Turner said there has been consolidation among 911 call centers in the state, with one third the number of PSAPs in Kentucky today than there were a decade ago. “We have seen tremendous consolidation in these organizations and these operations the last few years,” said Turner. He said most of 911 call centers in the state have already consolidated.
Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, commented that there are some locations in Kentucky including a city in his district that are without wireless service. That is an issue that still needs to be addressed, he said. “We do need to get coverage to get some of these areas, however we do it,” he told colleagues.
Options to a wireless fee for E911 were offered before the committee, including as Kenton County’s method of placing a 911 levy on property tax bills as a flat fee.
Also discussed before the committee were KLC’s and KACo’s other legislative priorities for 2015 including but not limited to revenue diversification, local option sales tax proposals, and local road aid funding.
I’ll have more news from Frankfort next week. Talk to you then.
Please share your ideas with me by e-mailing Brent.Yonts@lrc.ky.gov. You can also send me a letter addressed to: Rep. Brent Yonts, Capitol Annex, Rm. 366 A, 702 Capitol Ave., Frankfort Ky. 40601.
Information provided by Brent Yonts
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