, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 13, 2014

Cell switch hurts E911 funding

Funding challenge as customers drop landline phones

Ashley Capps has been grateful more than once to have access to Muskogee County E911 dispatchers.

Capps called the E911 system earlier this year from her cellphone when her husband, Taylor, needed emergency assistance. Taylor is a diabetic, and his blood sugar had dropped really low, she said.

“They did a really good job,” she said of dispatch personnel who stayed on the line with her until the ambulance arrived. “They were comforting. They assured me everything was going to be OK.”

First considered a luxury, 911 and enhanced 911 are now essential government services. And, with Enhanced 911, dispatchers can quickly provide emergency responders with the location of callers, whether the calls are received from landline phones, cellphones or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

The issue is how to fund the services, said Darryl Maggard, 911 coordinator for Muskogee City-County E911.

As phone customers drop landline service in favor of cell or Internet service, 911 funding is being reduced. In Oklahoma, landline customers pay monthly fees ranging from 3 to 15 percent of their base rate in 911 fees. The amount paid in each county is determined by county voters. Wireless and VoIP customers pay 50 cents monthly in most counties. But the reduction of landlines also has reduced funds for E911, and officials are searching for options to increase funds, Maggard said.

In 2012, 66 percent of the 181,895 calls to 911 in Muskogee County were from cellphones. The percentage of calls from cellphones so far this year is up to 80 percent, Maggard said. Dispatchers have received 44,481 calls through March of this year.

• In 2011, Muskogee’s 911 received $46,000 monthly from fees from phones from AT&T, the largest provider for the system. Last month, the system received $34,000 from AT&T, “which has been a pretty good hit for us financially,” Maggard said. “We’ve had to be really conservative on our budgeting.”

Dispatchers for fire, emergency medical services and law enforcement operate under one roof in Muskogee.

The budget for E911 for 2012-2013 was $2,259,693, Maggard said. Of that amount, E911 received $1,022,520 from  AT&T and other telephone companies. The remaining funds were provided by the city of Muskogee and Muskogee County, he said.

In 2008, the city of Muskogee and Muskogee County combined efforts to provide 911 services. At the time, officials knew that the fees from phone services — 15 percent of the base fee from landline phones and the 50 cents from cellphones and VoIP — wouldn’t cover all expenses, and the city and county agreed to divide the expenses which exceeded the expenses paid by phone services fees, Maggard said.

This year, for the first time, the 911 Trust Authority has submitted requests for increases in funding — from $34,000 to $37,000 monthly from both the city and the county. That increase would bring their portion to $880,000.

After some belt-tightening, the 2013-2014 budget has been reduced $198,065 from last year to $2,061,628. If E911 receives the same amount from telephone companies as they did last year, and the city and county don’t increase their portion, the E911 budget will be short $206,520. As long as the trend of fewer dollars from landlines continues, that shortage will increase.

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