Thursday, May 26, 2016

9-1-1 Legislation Will Improve System

Legislation signed Wednesday into law by Gov. Mary Fallin will reform and shore up the state 9-1-1 system.

“It’s a good thing,” said David Slaughter, Sequoyah County 9-1-1 Coordinator.

Slaughter said he sees more transparency and more accountability in the new system, as well as more money for the system.

House Bill 3126 increases the transparency and accountability for 9-1-1 fees and provides state coordination for improved 9-1-1 service delivery. The measure also replaces the funding that has been lost due to the drop in the use of landline phones with an increase to the individual 9-1-1 fee on each cellular contract. That fee would increase from 50 cents to 75 cents and is estimated to result in about $28 million.

Slaughter isn’t sure yet how much more money the local 9-1-1 system will be getting, but is sure it will be an increase.

He explained Sequoyah County 9-1-1 had a $382,000 budget in 2014, and had to overspend that by about $2,000. The budget was about $10,000 down last year due to the decrease in landlines. Any more loss of funds would have resulted in the loss of staff and improvements. The local 9-1-1 has four full-time staff and seven part-time staff plus Slaughter himself.

Slaughter said of the 25-cent increase in cell phone fees, 20 cents will go to the 9-1-1 systems and 5 cents will be used to fund the new state 9-1-1 coordinator’s office. Under the legislation, all 9-1-1 operations will be coordinated through a statewide director in the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Slaughter doesn’t see that as a problem. He said, “The director’s job will be to look for new ideas, to coordinate with other states and to improve the systems.”

The legislation also:

· Requires annual audits and reports from each dispatch center go to the Statewide 9-1-1 State Advisory Board.

· Redirects the funding from fees to the dispatch center where the individual using 9-1-1 resides rather than where the contract was purchased;

· Requires the fees to be paid to the Oklahoma Tax Commission and be distributed by the state advisory board; and

· Requires the state advisory board to seek out efficiencies and cost savings.

Slaughter said the legislation also disperses a little more of the cell phone fees to rural areas rather than urban areas, meaning Sequoyah County 9-1-1 will also see an increase in funds based on population.

“Hopefully we will be able to keep our staff and do some improvements too,” Slaughter said.

Sequoyah County 9-1-1 is now a Phase 2 service, meaning a call to 9-1-1 will not only reveal the caller but also the caller’s location.

“Hopefully,” Slaughter said, “everybody can upgrade to Phase 2 now, everywhere in Oklahoma.”

Many systems have lost funding through the loss of landlines that upgrades were not possible.

Sequoyah County 9-1-1 just recently upgraded its radio dispatch, and Slaughter is hoping for more improvements in the near future.

“I’m hoping we can upgrade the phone system,” Slaughter said.

He expects that will cost between $150,000 and $300,000.

He concluded, “We will have to save up our money to do that.”

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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