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Boost to 911 fees could come from legislature

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Provisions for a bigger stream of revenue for 911 services across the state are in the works for the Georgia General Assembly session set to start in January.

“Michael Nix is optimistic, and that makes me optimistic,” said John Blalock, director of the Floyd County 911 Center.

Nix was appointed earlier this year to direct the newly formed Local Government 911 Authority. Gov. Nathan Deal created the board under the Georgia Emergency Management Agency after vetoing legislation that made it a stand-alone body.

The bill passed by the House and Senate also contained the funding provisions local officials hope will be in the new legislation codifying the authority.

Blalock said all money collected from 911 fees would be sent directly to the authority for distribution based on zip codes. That would eliminate the administrative cost-recovery fee governments currently pay to carriers for handling the distribution.

“Last year we paid about $57,000 in cost-recovery fees,” Blalock noted.

Another provision would have bumped up the 75-cents-a-month 911 fee on prepaid phone cards to $1.50 — the same as it is for landlines and monthly plans.

Blalock said the Floyd County center got about $193,000 from prepaid phone card fees in 2016. With parity, it would have been twice that amount. However, collections this year were down to $145,000 and the Georgia Department of Revenue would say only that it was “part of the ebbs and flows” of commerce.

“Every 911 center in the state lost 25 percent of their prepaid funding and we don’t know why,” Blalock said.

County officials are asking that a provision be included in the new bill to allow local jurisdictions to get information from the GDOR about fees collected on their behalf.

Blalock said the added revenue would likely be enough to fund the Floyd County 911 Center through phone fees. The center doesn’t use tax money now, but it is drawing each year from a previously established savings account.

“Fees haven’t increased, but technology has gotten more expensive. We didn’t have text 10 years ago,” he said. “But we think our operations would be fully funded. We still wouldn’t have enough to put back for special projects, though.”

The local center is, however, slated for modernization through a $257,000 earmark in the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package. Collections don’t start until April 1, 2019, but Blalock is already researching the best deals.

“We’re taking our time to be sure we get the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “We have plans in the works and I’m hunting for prices, but I’m not lobbying to be moved up on the priority list.”

The bulk of the project will be replacement of the nearly 20-year-old consoles that dispatchers use to take calls and send help. A new lighting system, laminate flooring, some painting and remodeling the layout also are planned.

Blalock said he’ll also be including some security improvements, including shutter mechanisms for the windows, which face west and catch the full force of winds during heavy weather.