Monday morning, Bluegrass 911 Director Russ Clark had good news for the fiscally beleaguered board that overseas the center’s operation. Going through the bills, Clark had discovered that the center had been double paying an AT&T bill since Lincoln and Garrard counties merged emergency dispatching operations in 2008 to the tune of $500 a month. Clark is working with AT&T and anticipates that shortly the center will receive a rebate of $116,000.
That’s good news for the center that had to take out a loan last year to cover day-to-day operating expenses. The center still owes Farmers’ Bank $90,000 for the operating loan and will use the windfall to pay it off. The center will be in greatly improved financial shape when the debt is retired and sees its telecomm costs reduced by $500 per month.
Clark explained to the group that when the two centers merged, then-Director Ronnie Dobson had not realized that the center was still being billed for operating two centers. In the financial turmoil that followed Dobson’s departure, the double billing was overlooked until recently.
Clark also told the board of supervisors that 911 centers across the state could also be seeing increased revenues if a lawsuit is successful in applying a 911 fee to prepaid phones and phone card users. “Tracfone is the biggie,” Clark said. The company is being sued for $2 million for past unpaid 911 fees.
In Kentucky, every landline phone is assessed a monthly fee of three dollars, and each cell phone is assessed at 70 cents. Pending legislation would add a fee to prepaid phones and phone card users as well.
While things might be looking up for Bluegrass 911 financially, Garrard and Lincoln county law enforcement and emergency services are facing a steep bill, payable before Jan. 1, 2013. The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that, by that date, all of the radios the emergency services use must switch from wide band to either narrow band frequency modulation or to digital transmission. All of the radio networks in both counties still use wide band, and very few of the radios and none of the repeaters are capable of running in narrow band or digital modes necessitating the purchase of new radios. For Lincoln County, that could mean a lot of money.
Currently, there are 235 mobile and 324 handheld radios in service in Lincoln County. To replace them all with digital radios would cost the county more than a half million dollars. Purchasing narrow band radios would be about 20-percent cheaper, but Clark told the group that the state has already said that there would be no grant money made available for anything other than digital radios.
Upgrading the radios at the 911 center shouldn’t cost taxpayers anything; since Garrard County is a “receiving community” in the event of a disaster at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Madison County, new equipment for the center will be funded by the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP).
Jay Overman, the Garrard County CSEPP Coordinator, said that Lincoln might be able to make a good case for state assistance buying new radio equipment because of how tightly coupled Garrard and Lincoln emergency services are. “The state is putting us in a position that reduces our interoperability with Lincoln County at the benefit of interoperability with Madison County.”