By Sarah Plummer
After hearing public comments Friday, the Summers County Commission voted to adopt the proposed Summers County E-911 Ordinance Amendment, which will raise 911 fees on landline phones by $2 in January.
Many citizens present at the hearing told the commission they believe the rate increase, from $1.85 to $3.85 per month per landline, is too drastic.
Commission President Jerry Berry explained this fee increase is necessary in order to raise enough money for a down payment on a new $4.7 million 911 facility five to 10 years down the road.
Berry said the current 911 facility, housed in the basement of the Summers Memorial Building, is at capacity and a new structure will be needed in the foreseeable future.
Betty Williams asked if the commission had considered using the rest of the memorial building or another facility instead of building a new structure from the ground up.
Berry said up-to-date federal and state codes for the 911 structure are much more stringent than they were in the past.
Because Summers County is also in need of a new health department, the commission considered looking at building one facility to house both needs, at one time.
“When it came down to it, we found out it would be cheaper to build two separate buildings because the 911 center, by law, has to have its own ventilation system, power source, back-up power source, secure entrance and secure parking lot,” he said.
Williams reminded the commission that they are asking many senior citizens on fixed income to pay into a building they may never see complete.
“If you want me to accept this increase, you are going to have to show me something besides a building 15 years from now. I may not be here in 15 years,” she said.
She added that current 911 maps don’t even show her residential address, a problem that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.
Matt Stalnaker, an emergency manager for the county, commented, “It is not anywhere near a perfect system. There are lots of horror stories about addresses not being found until responders see smoke, but there are as many success stories, stories of people who have never had an address and 911 has been instrumental in providing that.”
He added that Summers 911 is still in the process of updating the address system, a long and arduous process.
Berry added that Williams can expect to see Emergency Medical Dispatch implemented within a year. This system has physicians notes that help the dispatcher tell the caller how to stabilize an individual until help can reach them.
Robert Angel asked how much the phone company would be charging to collect this fee and how much of it would be guaranteed to be saved for the new building.
The commission said that the fee, in its entirety, will be saved for a down payment on the new facility and the phone company will not take a collection fee.
Angel also asked about the $3 cell phone charges.
Berry explained that cell charges are managed statewide and are collected by the Public Service Commission, which distributes them based on Legislation.
Other agencies, like the State Police, also receive part of cell phone fee funds.
Berry said, based on what the county has received in the past, they expect to get more than $400,000 yearly from the cell phone fee and $111,000 yearly from landlines with the rate increase.
The proposed rate increase is just for landlines.
Former Commissioner Billy Joe Edwards was present at the public hearing and asked if the commission had looked into passing a levy for seeking grants to build the new facility instead of raising the rate so drastically.
Many of the homeland security grants have dried up and Summers County has a history of not being able to pass a levy, regardless of the purpose, responded Berry.
Edwards asked what the commission’s rate increase figures were based on.
Commissioner Jack David Woodrum said Mercer County architectural firm E.T Boggess helped the commission come up with an idea of what a new facility would cost and a committee spent time assessing what the rate increase should be.
Berry said some thought the rate should be raised to $4.65.
“If you were managing a budget at home and you knew you had this kind of expense ahead, you would probably try to save even more than what we will be saving with the $2 increase,” he said.
Commissioner Bill Lightner added that the commission would have liked to see a more gradual increase over the last several years, but they began looking at what raise would need to occur as soon as 911 realized they would need to move out of the memorial building, he said.
Berry said the commission feels it is more prudent to begin planning and saving for the building now instead of waiting until they need $500,000 to put a down payment on the building.
Also at the hearing was Sheriff-elect Garry Wheeler and Attorney J. Victor Flanagan, representation for Summers 911.
Friday was Berry’s last meeting as a Summers County commissioner. Commissioner-elect Tony Williams will take a seat on the panel in January.
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