TECUMSEH — A tariff increase for 911 services in Pottawatomie County that was defeated last month may get new life this fall.
The tariff increase failed by just 102 votes on Feb. 12, a day that saw cold, wet day throughout much of central Oklahoma. Only 724 of the registered 30,000 voters in the county came out to cast ballots on the tariff increase.
The increase would have been applied to residential and business phone lines. Pottawatomie County 911 Chairman J.R. Kidney said the increase would have been about 60 cents for a residential line and about $1.80 for a business line.
The increased tariff would have paid for training and upgrades to equipment, Kidney said. A new fire and medical dispatch system recently was implemented and a new police system will be active soon. Still, Kidney said, the agency will make do.
“There's nothing that will hamper the safety of our citizens, but we may not get the latest and greatest version of something because we can't afford it,” he said.
Money from phone line tariffs brings in about $120,000 per year for the county 911 services.
Kidney said the decline in landlines in homes has reduced that revenue in the last decade.
The 911 tariff for cellphones is about half what it would be for a landline.
“With so many people turning off their home phones on a daily basis, we lose money whenever that happens,” Kidney said.
He said there is a chance the tariff could be put back on the ballot this fall. He said given the low voter turnout came on a bad weather day, the results could be different.
“Where I voted in Tecumseh, it was the only thing on the ballot,” Kidney said. “It wasn't highly publicized. Less than a thousand people voted in the entire county. I think a lot of things just combined to keep it from passing.”
Next generation 911
Even though voters rejected a tariff increase in Pottawatomie County, the first phase of implementing the improved system is under way there and in other counties throughout Oklahoma.
Next generation 911 will allow those with an emergency to text from their cellphone the nature of their situation. Ty Wooten, National Emergency Number Association director of education and operational issues, said the text to 911 will be useful in several ways.
“It will allow for the same level of service for deaf and those who have other hearing problems,” Wooten said. “It also will benefit those who need emergency help but talking will put them in peril, for example if someone was at home during a break in.”
Four major cellphone carriers have agreed to have support for the text to 911 feature on their networks by 2014, Wooten said. Trials for the feature are under way in several areas of the country, he said.
Improving 911 infrastructures continues to be an ongoing concern throughout the country. Funding continues to decline as the number of landlines dwindles. Funding models may need to be changed. In Missouri, no money is collected from phone line tariffs. Instead, money for 911 services is taken from a city or county's general fund. Oklahoma and Texas operate under the tariff model.
Wooten said the investment in new technology will pay off in the end.
“Today's technology is built and developed from the 1950s,” he said. “It's not easily upgradable to current technologies. As we move forward, we will need systems that can be easily upgraded and changed out.”
Today's technology is built and developed from the 1950s. It's not easily upgradable to current technologies. As we move forward, we will need systems that can be easily upgraded and changed out.”