07/11/10 — State loosens grip on counties' 911 funds

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State loosens grip on counties' 911 funds

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 11, 2010 1:50 AM

Legislation that would give local governments more flexibility in how they spend money generated by 911 emergency call fees was sent to Gov. Beverly Perdue on Friday to sign into law.

The action came just days after Wayne County Commissioner Andy Anderson had asked County Manager Lee Smith for an update on what was then pending legislation to allow more flexibility in the use of the 911 money.

"What we are thinking is going to happen, it is going to be one-time money to help with the (communications) system," Smith said at the board's Tuesday meeting. "What we are really thinking is that if we want to go into phase two (of the new communications system) pretty soon, do the microwave system."

The county has financed the almost $10 million project and there is a pre-pay penalty, he said.

"What we are thinking is to take some of the (911) money and go ahead and put the microwave in place on the (radio) towers," he said. "That would help us with our wireless system instead of air cards for the Sheriff's Office and EMS. We even talked about the school buses having tracking devices.

"If we put in a microwave system that can triangulate all of our towers, you can put all of those in and this (911 funds) would pay for it. So we are thinking we may do that."

Smith said the county has asked the engineering company that does it communications work to bring back cost estimates to the county possibly within the next 30 days.

"That is one-time money?" Anderson asked.

Smith said he thinks that will be the case.

"Future (911) money, I think they (state) are going to take your money," Smith said. "I think the state is going to cut back on the percentages. My fear is they are getting more and more specific about it (use). I'm afraid they are going to cut it back to a point where we cannot use it for a communications system or backroom equipment. I find it hard to believe there is going to be more money.

"We are preparing for worse case. We budgeted for worse case. There is not a windfall. Sometimes when you see a legislative bulletin it looks like a windfall. It is not a windfall. So for that one time, let's look at that phase two because what I am afraid of is that I will not have that money in two years. If I get that one-time money, I am already financed on this side (rest of the system) for three percent -- a cheap money."

Currently, 911 revenues can be used only for equipment needed to receive incoming calls and not for equipment needed for outgoing calls.

Wayne County officials was hoping to be able to use $500,000 to $750,000 in 911 revenues to help pay for the county's new emergency communications system.

The county has $1.9 million in 911 revenues that are disbursed by the state. However, that money cannot be used for the new communications systems.

The legislation also added two positions to the board -- a fire chief to be recommended by the N.C. Firemen's Association and an emergency management director to be recommended by the state Association of Rescue and Emergency Management Services.

It also provides that board members may not serve more than two terms.

A provision to allow the percentage of funds retained by the 911 Board for administrative expenses would be increased from 1 to 2 percent.

Those revenues could be used to hire someone to aid the counties in writing grants and contracts.

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