E-911 sees revenues fall

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Bedford County Emergency Communications District board chair and Bedford County Fire Chief Mark Thomas, center, makes a point to board member Curt Cobb. At right is Michael Mahn, the board's attorney. (T-G Photo by John I. Carney)

Bedford County Emergency Communications District (E-911), like similar groups across the state, is fighting a decrease in revenue as customers drop traditional land lines for mobile phones and for Internet-based telephone services.

Local communications centers are funded by a surcharge on landlines; there's also a surcharge on mobile and Internet phone service, but that goes to the state, not to the local com centers.

The state uses some of that money to make grants to local com centers, but that's not the same as receiving the funds directly, and there's wide variance in rates from county to county and from land lines to other products.

"Our biggest issue is revenue reduction," said Bedford County E-911 board chair Mark Thomas.

When a business switches one telephone line from traditional land line service to voice-over-Internet, it goes from paying a $3 monthly surcharge to Bedford County E-911 to paying a $1 monthly surcharge to the state.

The com center also receives revenue from the county budget, but in a time of tight budgets over the past few years county commissioners have talked about ways of spending less tax revenue, not more, on the center.

Seeking more revenue

That decline in revenue affects how many dispatchers can be hired and on duty.

At most times of day, Bedford County has two dispatchers on duty; board member Curt Cobb said some other communities our size have three, and board member Roger Hawks said that Insurance Services Office fire protection standards call for even more than that.

Meeting Wednesday night, the E-911 board voted to pursue organizing other Tennessee com centers to hire a lobbyist who will represent the interests of local communications centers in Nashville.

The suggestion was made by Cobb, who is himself a former state representative. Cobb said that a lobbyist can play an important role in educating legislators about the challenges faced by local com centers.

Michael Mahn, the board's attorney and consultant, said that a lobbyist can serve not only as a communicator but as "a navigator, too," helping E-911 groups understand what's going on at the state level.

Mahn also said he'd met recently with Lynn Questell, the state's director of emergency communications districts, to discuss the need for new revenue.

City 9-1-1

E-911 will also seek revenue from another source: the City of Shelbyville. Currently, the local com center has no interlocal agreement with the city for taking emergency calls from city residents.

"It's a state rule," said Cobb. "We're not following that rule right now."

According to discussion Wednesday night, the city should either have an interlocal agreement with E-911 or else create its own call center, called a PSAP (public safety answering point) to take incoming 911 calls. Board members said it would be much more expensive for the city to create its own PSAP than to negotiate an interlocal agreement with E-911.

The board authorized Thomas to send a letter to the city.


Cobb invited Will Denami, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Assessing Officers, to speak to the board about the benefits of having a lobbying presence in Nashville. Denami might be hired to fill a lobbying role for com centers.

There is an existing organization, the Tennessee Emergency Number Association, which holds an annual conference and promotes "research, planning, training and education," according to its web site, tena911.org. But the group does not have a lobbyist.

The local E-911 board voted to authorize contacting TENA to see if it would be interested in hiring a lobbyist, and if not, contacting other emergency communications districts directly to form a coalition for that purpose.

The E-911 board said that if a total of 10 com centers could be convinced to join, each would have to put up $3,000. The board said it's willing to spend up to that amount, provided nine other centers come aboard.

The hope is that even more com centers can be convinced to join, which would reduce the cost for each one.

The money would be transferred out of the line item for the director's salary; the current com center director, Phillip Noel, was hired for less than what had been in the budget for that line item.

Other business

The E-911 board voted to shift its bank accounts from Regions Bank to FirstBank, where the county has its bank accounts, and to have a standing policy of banking wherever county government banks.

County Finance Director Robert Daniel said this simplifies some issues related to direct deposits and payroll.