E911 rate increase coming
Mar 21, 2012 (Dothan Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Dothan/Houston County E-911 Advisory Committee plans to recommend an increase in 911 fees for residential lines in advance of what committee members say is an inevitable increase from the state level.
The committee unanimously voted to recommend increasing residential rates from the current rate of 84 cents per residential line to $2 per residential line per month. The recommendation must be approved by the Dothan/Houston County E-911 board during its next scheduled meeting in April. If approved, it would take two to three months before the increase is implemented by the phone companies.
Interim coordinator Chris Etheridge said pending legislation expected to be approved at the state level that would create a state E-911 board and level 911 fees across the state prompted consideration of the increase.
Etheridge said rural counties have been losing 911 revenue and are in danger of not being able to provide service. The creation of the state board will allow the board to set statewide 911 fees for all 911 districts to insure every district has adequate revenue. Etheridge said the new legislation will guarantee a rate increase for Dothan/Houston County, but would not guarantee that the local district would keep the additional revenue. The statewide rate is expected to be set around $1.50, and would apply to residential, cell phone and business lines.
However, if the legislation is approved, the new statewide rate would not be implemented for five years. Committee members said increasing the rate now will allow the district to initially retain the revenue needed to update equipment to keep up with evolving technology and to explore the construction of a joint communication center for Dothan and Houston County.
"If we are not on top of the latest technology, we are not doing a service to the community," said committee member Rickey Stokes. "It takes money to stay on top of rapid changes."
Etheridge said Dothan/Houston County 911 rates have not changed in 20 years. He said the district will have to spend a lot of money to upgrade to "next generation" 911 technology that will accept 911 calls from cell phone text messages and possibly streaming video messages.
Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver, an E-911 board member, said the issue comes down to whether the revenue will be used at the local level or somewhere else.
"We know what is going on at the state level. That legislation will increase rates on our citizens. If we do nothing, the rates on our citizens are going to go up and our citizens will have nothing to show for it. They are going to pay the increased amount anyway," Culver said.
Currently, local 911 rates are 84 cents for residential lines, 70 cents for cell phones and $2.21 for business lines. The proposed increase would only affect residential lines, but all rates will be the same when the new state rate is implemented.
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