New 911 revenue streams should be explored

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Wood County’s 911 Center is facing a problem that comes as a consequence of advancing technology and changing habits. As land-line phone use decreases, so does the amount of money the center receives from the 911 land line fee. The difference is marked. In the span of just one year, the number of land lines in use in Wood County fell by about 6 percent. In 2011-2012, the 911 land line fee generated $798,277, but in 2013-14, it brought in only $731,174.

Meanwhile, the 911 fee counties are able to charge cell phone users is set by the state. Wood County has no ability to increase revenue through increased cell phone fees. So, representatives are forced to ask for an increase in the 911 land line fee. An extra 75 cents per month is not much to ask, and the public should be willing to see their 911 land line fee raised to $2.50 per month, given the incredible public safety asset at the 911 Center.

But as County 911 Director Rick Woodyard explained it, the loss of land lines will continue to mean “diminishing funds.” There is no arguing communication has changed, and will continue to do so.

Wood County should be ready to change, as well, and be prepared to examine other ways to assess 911 fees. In its report to the National 911 Program, the Blue Ribbon Panel on 911 Funding noted several mechanisms used in counties across the country. While it included land line and cell phone fees, it also listed possibilities such as prepaid wireless/phone card point-of-sale collection, property-based taxes, sales taxes, Universal Service Funds, and fee-for-service payments.

In the near future, Wood County’s 911 Center may be forced to take another look at revenue collection, if it is to maintain the high quality service it now delivers. Officials must be willing, at that time, to look at new ways to raise the necessary funds, as the old way is disappearing.

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