A controversial plan to fund E-911 services through a fee on individual parcels of land appears to be dead for now. Mercer County will use carryover funds to pay for the federally-mandated service for another year, but once that is gone, the local governments will find themselves with the same problem and fewer funds.
The Mercer County government will fund E911 services using funds from an estimated $485,000 remaining in a land line account. However, spending is restricted. The county can only spend 65-percent of the funds, which is one of the reasons the account has grown over the last few years.
The rest of the budget will have to come from the county’s general fund.
“This year won’t be a problem,” said Judge-Executive Milward Dedman. “The problem starts next year.”
Officials have been in talks for over a year trying to solve that problem. Last month, they offered their solution: a $40 parcel fee, which needed to be passed by the City of Harrodsburg, the Mercer County Fiscal Court and Burgin City Council.
The Harrodsburg City Commission okayed the parcel fee in a special-called meeting last week, but it died for lack of a motion at a special-called meeting of the fiscal court on Tuesday, July 2. Even if the fiscal court took up the issue again, it’s too late to put the parcel fee on tax bills for this year.
Harrodsburg Mayor Art Freeman attended the most recent fiscal court meeting, on Tuesday, July 9. While Freeman expressed a desire to assist the county with E911, he said the city is limited in what it can contribute financially.
“We will help any way we can, but the city does not have the money to fund 911,” the mayor said.
Freeman noted that Mercer County is hardly the only county in Kentucky that’s having trouble funding E911 call services. Federal agencies have recommended that 911 systems be consolidated on a regional basis.
“We’re going to lose lives if we do that,” Freeman said. “I think, we, as a community, need to keep 911 local.”
Since 1967, 911 call services across the country have been paid for largely through fees collected on traditional land line phones. However, over the last few decades, the number of land lines have decreased drastically.
According to a report compiled by the National Association of Counties, in 2015, 80-percent of 911 calls were made on cell phones, while cell phone users only paid 20–25 percent of total 911 fees.
In Mercer County, cell phone owners pay 80-cents a month for 911 service, while land line users pay up to $4 a month. According to the report, those with prepaid phone plans—which makes up the fastest growing segment of the cell phone market—pay no 911 fees at all.
Land line fees go directly to the counties to support 911 call services, but the Commonwealth of Kentucky only passes along 70-percent of the fees collected on cell phones back to the counties, according to the National Association of Counties.
After the fiscal court meeting, Judge Dedman said a budget surplus will enable the county to fund E911 services for another year. But he said it is important to find a stable source of revenue to fund services.
“Where are we going to come up with it after this year?” Dedman asked. “If something isn’t done before the next budget, we’re going to have to figure where to take the money away from.”
In related business, the fiscal court agreed to create a new fund type 76 for E911 land line fees and transfer all new E911 land line funds from the general fund account to the new account. The funds are restricted and can only be spent on 911 expenses. Judge Dedman said it would make accounting for 911 easier.
The fiscal court also amended the budget to reflect $86,677.52 in carry over funds for E911 wireless funds.
The Mercer County Fiscal Court will meet again on Tuesday, July 23, at 10 a.m.
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