06/18/09 — Wayne can't use 911 funds for radio system

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Wayne can't use 911 funds for radio system

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 18, 2009 1:46 PM

The county will not be able to use 911 revenues to help defray the costs of a new $9 million to $10 million emergency communications system.

The bad, but not unexpected, economic news greeted commissioners Tuesday morning just prior to their approval of a $157.6 million county budget.

The new radio system, most of which will be paid for through a bank loan, includes some 1,600 radios for all of the county's fire, rescue and law enforcement agencies.

Payment on the new system is included in the budget, but county officials had been hopeful that between $500,000 to $750,000 in 911 revenues could have been utilized.

The news came during a call from Sen. Don Davis (D-Greene).

County Manager Lee Smith told commissioners that Davis had called and said he had been unsuccessful in his efforts to get an amendment through to expanded the definition of use of 911 funds

"He said it appears it is not going to happen," Smith said after the meeting. "Don's expectation basically is that he thinks it is a dead issue this year as hard as they fought.

"We are friends of the telephone companies, but we just feel like as counties that money is being collected in locations here from users in our communities. That money was set aside for use by counties and cities for 911 and communications and there is a huge amount of reserve."

He added, "Now it is in the state coffers and if it stays there long enough we will not get it."

Currently, the revenues can be used only for equipment needed to receive incoming calls, not for equipment needed for outgoing calls.

The Senate bill would have expanded use of the funds to include paying for the lease or purchase of real estate, cosmetic remodeling of emergency dispatch centers, hiring or compensating telecommunications, or the purchase of mobile communications vehicles, ambulances, fire engines or other emergency vehicles.

Other allowed uses would have included the lease, purchase or maintenance of emergency telephone equipment, including necessary computer hardware, database provisioning, addressing and non-recurring costs of establishing a 911 system, the lease or purchase of an additional communications tower, a multi-site simulcast system, microwave connectivity between the sites, site monitoring and alarm system, base stations, and grounding and lightning protection.

"We feel like we should be authorized to use some of that (reserve)," Smith said in an interview. "I am not saying use all of it, but at least expand the definition. It is not like they've got zero money. There is money that is available that was collected and is there for Wayne County.

"I really think it is just all of the budget woes they (state) have. I am very fearful. I don't care if you call anyone in the state they are going to tell you that I am wrong, but it was kind of like the lottery money. 'Oh, they won't (take it),' but they did. They pulled some of the money even if it was temporary.

"I am afraid of that also because if it is in the state's hand they can take possession of it in some shape or form."

He added that Davis said lawmakers argued against expanding the definition of use because the committee authorized to conduct a study on the issue has not done its work.

"Well, this has taken too long," Smith said. "It has been over a year. Come on. Give me a couple of months and I will have this thing done. How long does it take? I think you would basically go in and look at the fund, how much is collected. You would go to the telephone companies and say, 'how are you doing with the next expansion of the analog/digital' and most of them are.

"What do you have to do because there is money authorized for them also. Do a survey of all the counties. That is not that difficult. So what is taking so long on this committee study? I am fearful of that money staying up there. I think we are going to lose it."

During the meeting, Smith reassured commissioners that the had not included the 911 revenue in the budget.

"We were just wishing," said Chairman Bud Gray.

"This would have given us a little more breathing room," Smith said in the interview. "Even though we have adopted our budget today we still don't know what the state and federal government are going to do. We could have cuts and I may have to come back in July, Aug. or Sept., the first quarter, and make adjustments based on what the state and federal budgets do."

Smith said he budgeted "worst case."

"That is our philosophy, we do not budget for something that we think we might happen. We budget for those things that we understand will happen or have already been put in place by law. In that case if we had received another half million dollars I would have reduced local money, applied that money and then we could either by fund balance or use that other money for some other purpose put it in reserve, whatever.

"Or we would have kept our money the same, use some of the money to reduce the amount that we are borrowing quicker and retire debt faster. We had been hopeful. We felt it was the closest it had ever come to happening."