First Posted: 4/26/2009
Ninetieth District House Rep. Sarah Stevens said she is trying to find out why state 911 money that had been flowing to Surry County to pay for part of the countywide 911 system has been cut off.
The countys board of commissioners learned the state funding had been cut at a recent board meeting, when Brian Sharpe, director of the countys Management Information Systems, told commissioners that he would be asking for an additional $106,000 in local money this year to supplant the lost state funding. The money is collected as a state tax, or surcharge, on telephone landlines and cell phones, and then is redistributed to localities.
Sharpe told the board that money is used to pay for Internet and phone services between departments like Emergency Services and local police departments.
They were previously paying that, but because of restrictions, they will no longer pay for that, Sharpe said. He said the short-fall would have to be added to the equipment and maintenance part of his local budget.
Betty Taylor, assistant county manager for budget and finance, said 911 funds would only pay for one administrative line into the 911 center.
The change in state policy did not set well with the board, and Chairman Craig Hunter said he would like to appeal the decision from whomever is administering the money at the state level.
He also has contacted Stevens and 92nd District Rep. Darrell McCormick to enlist their help.
Stevens also was perplexed at the state decision. There are three very specific things that these funds are supposed to be used for and that is for phone lines, emergency phone equipment, computer software and databases, training and charges associated with suppliers 911 service and other supplier reoccurring charges, Stevens said. So based on what Im hearing so far, there shouldnt be any reason this was denied. And I think that is the question everyone is trying to get down to.
Prior to 2007 individual localities around the state set their own 911 surcharged, which ranged from 25 cents to as high as $3.50 per line per month. The money that was collected in each locality was returned to that locality.
In 2007 that all changed, and the state set a uniform rate of 70 cents per line per month, with that money then allocated by the state, with little or no regard for where that money was collected. Stevens said that means larger populated areas tend to get more of the money, while rural areas get less. Money collected from cell phones are dumped into a pool, for which localities must apply through a grant process.
Stevens said she hasnt yet seen the letter the county received, so she doesnt know the exact reason the state is cutting back on the funding, but she is delving into that, and will speak with officials at the state 911 boad. She is also paying attention to several bills introduced in the General Assembly dealing with 911 funds.
McCormick said he is working with Hunter to find out who he needs to talk to in order to appeal the decision.
Contact Mondee Tilley at [email protected] or at 719-1930.