With a steady decrease in landline connections and a smartphone in every pocket, funding 911 services through landline surcharges is becoming an obsolete format for many counties. In May, the Missouri General Assembly took a step forward in counteracting this issue.

With a steady decrease in landline connections and a smartphone in every pocket, funding 911 services through landline surcharges is becoming an obsolete format for many counties. In May, the Missouri General Assembly took a step forward in counteracting this issue.

For many years, Missouri has remained the only state without a statewide 911 funding system. With House Bill 1456, counties and certain municipalities across Missouri will be allowed to seek voter approval for a fee up to $1 on any device being used to contact 911 services. Areas adopting this system would forfeit their previous funding mechanism in response to the new adoption.

The bill would place a 3 percent charge on prepaid phones towards 911 services. An unspecified portion of that money would go to 911 services in the county the phone was purchased in. The remainder would go to the state.

Statewide, better funding would help emergency dispatch centers keep up with increasing call volumes, upgrade service technology and hire new dispatchers. Upgraded technology would allow for service stations to triangulate cellular calls more directly and even allow for texts instead of a traditional call.

This funding change could directly affect lake dispatch call centers.

Camden County Sheriff’s Office Captain Chris Twitchel says that the county was upgraded to a “Phase 2” center two years ago. This means that the technology in place is as far as they can currently go. With this technology, the dispatch center is able to better pinpoint cell phone calls.

This upgrade was funded by the cell companies, due to the limited funding available through traditional landline fees. Though the systems are up-to-date, the people running the call center are being pushed to their max.

According to Twitchel, Camden County dispatchers are “underfunded and overworked.” He would like to see Camden County pursue this vote when the bill becomes law to better staff the call center and provide the current members some relief and better wages to help maintain the workforce.

“We are running on fumes here,” Twitchel says. “We need to get more people trained on these systems.”

Miller County Presiding Commissioner Tom Wright says that it has taken years for the state government to figure out a solution for this issue. Miller County generally lacks some cell services and that is making it more difficult to advance dispatch technology, according to Wright. However, the county has seen a steady line of landline fees remain even with the surge in cell phone use. Still, the fee increase that would come from the bill would be beneficial.

Wright says that he wants to see the final language on the bill before making any concrete decisions. His main concern is the balance of funds going straight to the county versus what will go to the state. He says he wants to see the county benefit first and foremost. He feels that Miller County has done a great job upgrading their current systems, though adding that upgrades are always needed.

Morgan County 911 Emergency Management Director Rick Bias says that a major issue around the lake with funding 911 is the ebb and flow of population levels. Between the busy summer months and the slower winter months, he says that call volume shifts drastically. Morgan County struggled to fund the switch to a phase 2 system nearly three years ago and is still lacking in general 911 funds, he says. Currently, 15 percent of calls are wired and the rest are received wirelessly.

Bias hopes that bill will help to generate funds and to aid in Morgan County 911 becoming more self sufficient. He says that the main advantage to this change would be the load it would take off of general revenue. He wants to bring in more dispatchers and pay for top notch employees to make the county “as efficient as possible.”  

The bill was sent to the governor May 30. It can become law with or without new Gov. Mike Parson’s signature as long as he doesn’t veto the bill.

No new local tax would take effect though unless a vote is secured by each county.

The bill also seeks to address the growing need of service consolidation throughout parts of the state. Currently, Missouri’s 114 counties have 185 Public Safety Answering Points. In order to to seek this consolidation, voters will not be asked to approve of the new funding scheme unless a plan for consolidation is developed where needed.

This is not believed to be an issue in the Lake area.