08/03/05 — County raises 911 fee

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County raises 911 fee

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on August 3, 2005 1:51 PM

Wayne County Commissioners decided Tuesday to increase the county's telephone surcharge by a dollar a month to keep the county's emergency response system up-to-date.

The increase will increase the surcharge from 85 cents to $1.85 cents per month, starting in November.

The commissioners voted unanimously to increase the fee following a public hearing on the issue.

Rosewood Fire Chief Norman Pendergraph said he doesn't like to see the rate increase but that the county has to keep its system in good working order.

"We've got the same radio system we were using in 1959," Pendergraph said.

Delbert Edwards, the county's telecommunications supervisor, said the current radio system is a conglomeration of the three communications systems that were consolidated into one two years ago.

Edwards said there were weaknesses in each of those systems.

"Goldsboro's police department's system had equipment from the early 1980s," he said. "Their transmitter failed last summer and has already been replaced."

Edwards added that the Mount Olive police department's system is in need of repair.

He said the county's 911 dispatch center handles about 400,000 telephone calls a year, with about 80,000 requiring an immediate response. In order to provide every part of the county residents in every part of the county good response, the county needs to improve its equipment, he said.

"We have areas in the county where the radio coverage is very poor," Edwards said.

He also said that the Goldsboro Police Department and Fire Department had problems with radio reception in some alleys downtown.

The proposed system achieves 95/95 coverage, Edwards said, meaning that 95 percent of the places in the county will have portable radio coverage 95 percent of the time. The new system will also meet standards set by the federal Homeland Security Department.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said that sheriffs all over the state and the nation are faced with the same communication issues.

"I know it's a tax increase, but we're in dire need," Winders said. "What's the price tag on a human life?"

Winders said that the communication was so bad in some areas of the county that a "tin can and a string" would work as well.

Willie Ray Starling spoke against the increase, saying he supported an improved radio system, but didn't want a tax increase to pay for it.

"This is a tax increase, even if you call it a fee," he said. "I can't reach into your pocket; stop putting your hands in my pocket."

John Ward said he couldn't afford the increase, and said he believes the county needs to better prioritize its needs.

Lonnie Casey said he thought the county needed more information on the issue before making a decision.

"Don't rush on this decision or I'll call Homeland Security and tell them to hold your grant money," Casey said.

Casey suggested the county pay for cell phones for volunteer fire fighters -- something two fire chiefs said wouldn't work.

"The radio system will be cheaper than doing that," said Mike Aycock, chief of the Little River Fire Department.

Philip Shiver, assistant chief of the Indian Springs Fire Department and president of the Wayne County Fire Association, said a study had been conducted that showed the communication system needs are real.

"We had a committee, had the fire departments, sheriff's office, police department and emergency management services," he said.

Commissioner Andy Anderson said the county is obliged to do the best it can to protect its citizens. He said the surcharge is the fairest way to raise the money.