05/10/10 — Regulations on using 911 funds could get look from legislature

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Regulations on using 911 funds could get look from legislature

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 10, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County's efforts to build an almost $10 million emergency communications system would benefit from a legislative committee draft bill that calls for more flexibility on the use of 911 funds.

The bill would allow authorized expenditures to include "necessary hardware and software, towers, base station transmitters, microwave links and antennae used to dispatch emergency calls from the PSAP (public safety answering point) and the radio communications equipment used by the first provider of emergency services to receive the emergency dispatch."

The county recently completed two new towers -- one on U.S. 13 South at Grantham and the other behind Carver Memorial Park in Mount Olive. The project includes the purchase of about 1,600 portable radios for all law enforcement and fire, rescue and emergency services agencies in the county.

While not explicitly spelled out in the draft, Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, said he thinks that the intent of the wording would allow the county to use the funds to help purchase the radios.

Sager was a member of the House Select Committee on the Use of 911 Funds that crafted the bill, which recommends more local government representation by restructuring the 911 Board to include eight local government members -- one of whom should represent county managers -- and eight telecommunications industry members.

The bill also adds two positions to the board -- a fire chief to be recommended by the N.C. Firemen's Assoc-iation, and an emergency management director to be recommended by the N.C. Association of Rescue and Emergency Management Services.

The draft bill changes the term of the board members from four to three years and provides that board members may not serve more than two terms.

A major goal of the reworked bill is to make the law more user-friendly so that people will know what is authorized and what is not, Sager said.

The sticking point could be how much influence the telecommunications companies are able to bring to bring to bear to block any of the committee's findings, said Sager.

The legislative short session begins Wednesday and Sager expects the bill will be introduced during the first week.

"All we need to do is to get a bill number," he said.

If approved, the changes could become effective July 1, he added.

Flexibility in the use of 911 funds has been the top Justice and Public Safety legislative goal of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners for some time and has been a goal since 1995. Restructuring the state's 911 Board to provide additional local government representation was an association goal.

Sager offered the amendment to add a fire chief and an emergency management director at the request of the association.

The final draft bill was 99 percent by consensus, Sager said. Only one person, whose county has already completed its communications system, opposed some of the recommendations. However, even then he still provided information and suggestions, Sager added.

Telephone companies are not really interested in collecting the fee and would rather see it added to property taxes, he said.

"I think the people are more satisfied with it the way it is," he said.

Sager said that while he does not favor expanding government that he supports a provision to allow the percentage of funds retained by the 911 Board for administrative expenses to increase from 1 to 2 percent.

Those revenues could be utilized to hire someone to aid the counties in writing grants and contracts, he said.

Effective July 1, the 911 fee will become 70 cents for every county statewide. The 911 Board will be able to decrease the fee, but not increase it, he said.