With landline telephone use declining, Rep. Martha Jane King has filed a bill aimed at boosting funding for emergency 911 services by raising a monthly fee on cell phones from 70 cents to $1.
King, D-Lewisburg, said cell phone calls to 911 services across the state account for about 70 percent of total call volume, and that rate rises to 80 percent in urban areas. Fees collected from wireless phone users, however, account for just 20 percent of 911 funding, she said.
As landline use has dropped, local governments have bridged the financial gap in 911 services by providing about 48 percent of overall funding, she said.
House Bill 391 would steer 80 percent of new funds toward 911 services across the state, 15 percent to a next generation fund and 5 percent to increase grant funding for regionalization and consolidation efforts. The legislation would cut the disparity between prepaid and contractual cell phones, a gap that has cost local governments some $21 million over the past eight years, King said.
The wireless 911 fee has not increased since it began in 1998, she said.
King, speaking after a Capitol rotunda press conference, noted support from firefighters, sheriff’s offices and other emergency responders. She said HB 391 has bipartisan support and will help local 911 systems stay afloat and implement new technology.
“I think this goes across party lines,” King said. “I think this is an issue that we need to get behind because it’s the right thing to do to fund 911.”
Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth and Woodford County Sheriff Wayne “Tiny” Wright joined King at the press conference.
Each said 911 systems across the state have funding gaps that must be filled, and they said a 30-cent wireless fee increase is not onerous given the importance of such emergency communications.
“About 10 or 15 years ago, a single car accident would have resulted in one or maybe two calls to 911 from a nearby house or a passerby,” Bozarth said. “Today, a 911 center might process dozens more phone calls for a single car accident because of good Samaritans who all now have instant access to cell phones.”
While he said the influx of calls is positive for public safety, it’s burdensome for local communities to maintain staff and equipment necessary to operate an emergency call center.
“Thirty cents makes a big difference,” Wright said. “Landlines are going away. We’ve seen that in Woodford County. We had 15,000 landlines when 911 started in our county. We’re now down to (10,000).”