Updating 911 Emergency Service
"You would be hard pressed to find any service more essential than 911," said Representative Martha Jane King, the primary bill sponsor. "This bill recaptures funds lost as people have shifted to cell phones."
Cities, counties and 911 advocates gathered in the Capitol Rotunda this morning to call on lawmakers to reform the fee structure that funds 911 systems. Kentucky 911 services are funded primarily through revenues from landline and wireless user fees. As more Kentuckians phase out landline use, cities and counties are faced with declining revenues for 911 services. The wireless fee, which is set by the Kentucky state legislature, has not changed since 1998. This outdated funding structure has created a shortfall for an essential emergency service.
"House Bill 391 updates the funding stream to help replenish the resources that have steadily declined over the last decade," said Representative Martha Jane King (D-Lewisburg), who is the bill's primary sponsor.
"It simply aligns 911 user fees with modern day use and makes some common-sense reforms to update our systems with today's technologies," said King.
The 911 funding reform legislation will increase the current monthly statewide wireless fee from 70-cents to $1.00. The 70-cent statewide 911 wireless fee has not changed since its inception in 1998. According to the Consumer Price Index calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 cents in 1998 would equal $1.00 in 2013 dollars.
U.S. Census data reports that one in three homes no longer has a landline. In 1996, 96 percent of U.S. homes had land lines. The trend of more people forgoing landlines in favor of cellular services is only expected to grow.
Statewide, about 70 percent of 911 calls come from cell phones, compared to 30 percent from landlines. The ratio skews even more heavily in favor of cell phones in more urban areas. However, revenue from wireless devices only accounts for about 20 percent of 911 revenues. To further complicate the issue, the prevalence of cell phones has increased 911 call volume tremendously.
"About 15 years ago, a single car accident would have resulted in one or maybe two calls to 911 from a nearby house or a passerby. Today, a 911 center might process dozens more phone calls for a single car accident because of Good Samaritans who all now have instant access to cell phones," explained KLC President and Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth. "This is certainly a good thing for public safety - we can respond much more quickly and can get real-time information from witnesses. However, we have the responsibility to provide the appropriate staff and maintain the necessary equipment so that each one of these calls is properly answered and logged, even if it's for the same accident."
Local governments are now filling the funding gap by providing more than 48 percent of funding for 911 services from general funds. As Kentuckians continue to shift toward cell phones and drop their landline phones, the shortfall continues to expand.
"We keep filling the gap with local tax dollars and support for 911, but it's no secret - much like the state, local budgets are strapped," said Shelby County Judge/Executive Rob Rothenburger. "We are providing coverage for all, but it is paid for by a few."
The fastest growing segment of cellphone users are prepaid users, but those with prepaid cellphones are not paying as much as traditional cellphone users. In 2006, amendments to 911 funding statutes created a disparity between prepaid and postpaid wireless subscribers, which has cost local governments nearly $21 million in prepaid wireless monies. Overall, local governments have lost approximately $42 million in general fund revenues since the 2006 amendments were enacted.
House Bill 391 will end the disparity between prepaid and postpaid mobile wireless subscribers by requiring prepaid users to pay the equivalent of the statewide wireless fee. In addition, the legislation includes a transparency provision that clearly outlines how 911 funds may be used.
"House Bill 391 will not provide a windfall for 911 services, but it will fix the funding structure to align 911 user fees with the modern day users," said Representative King. "This bill ensures that our families, friends and neighbors will always have 911 services when and where they need them, and that is just the right thing to do."
The following organizations are supportive of this legislation:
Kentucky League of Cities
Kentucky Association of Counties
Kentucky Firefighters Association
Kentucky Fire Chiefs Association
Kentucky Professional Firefighters Association
Kentucky Fire Commission
Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police
Kentucky Sheriffs Association
Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association
Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association