Officials to meet over 911
It’s Rockdale’s turn to hear about the anticipated 911 funding crisis Monday as a presentation from the Central Texas Council of Governments (CTCOG) is on the agenda for the 5:30 p.m. city council session at City Hall.
CTCOG has told the cities of Rockdale and Cameron, plus Milam County, it could request as much as $36,000 annually from them to keep the emergency communications system’s answering points in both Rockdale and Cameron.
“We’re hoping to schedule a meeting with Cameron officials to see how they view the situation,” Rockdale City Manager Kelvin Knauf said.
“Hopefully we can get that done before our council meets on Monday,” Knauf said.
The Cameron City Council heard CTCOG’s presentation in a called session Tuesday.
Reed told the Cameron council CTCOG is projecting a “minimal” shortfall of 911 call center funding in its seven-county area, including Milam, in 2012 but heavier shortfalls in 2013 and 2014.
“That’s the timeline but it depends largely on state appropriations and what happens with the economy,” he said.
Since meeting with county officials two weeks ago Reed said he has met with District 54 State Representative Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), a member of the state appropriations committee. Reed said Aycock is dedicated to helping provide the best option for public safety.
“As I understand it, CTCOG wants a decision from the three entities, the two cities and the county, on whether we would be willing to contribute funds to keep the 911 service as it is now or be in favor of consolidating it to one county-wide location,” Knauf said.
Jim Reed, CTCOG executive director, told Milam County commissioners two weeks ago that CTCOG needs an answer by the end of August.
Reed said CTCOG isn’t recommending an option.
“They want us (the entities) to tell them, to make a recommendation,” Knauf said.
It’s unclear whether the Rockdale City Council plans to take any action on the matter Monday.
“We really need to meet with the Cameron officials first and then we’ll know more about what we’re expected to do on Monday,” Knauf said.
Tax rate impact
Reed told commissioners CTCOG would need $36,000 to maintain the ser vice with answering points, while consolidation lowers the price tag to $22,000.
“We need to know, among other factors, if the two cities and the counties would split up that figure he quoted,” Knauf said.
“Obviously, coming up with that kind of money for a budget item we had not anticipated would have an effect on our tax rate,” he added.
Rockdale police have expressed fears that consolidating 911 answering points to one location— likely in Cameron—would slow down response times in emergencies.
“You would have a 911 operator in Cameron taking a call from the south part of the county and getting all the information,” Police Chief Thomas Harris said.
“Then they’d have to contact us, tell us all the information again and we would dispatch emergency crews,” he said. “That would add 3 to 5 minutes to emergency calls and that could be dangerous.”
Phone bill fee
The anticipated funding crunch has its roots in a Texas Legislature bookkeeping move to reserve 12 cents of the 50-cent 911-funding fee on telephone bills in a budgetbalancing move.
Reed said by law the $148 million being reserved “sits in a state treasury lock box” and cannot be used for any purpose other than 911.
“But because it is not appropriated it’s counted as a credit against any deficit of the state,” he said.
Reed pointed out that large cities—Dallas, Austin, Waco and others—have their own 911 districts and do receive the entire 50 cents.
He emphasized that 911 service is not going away.
“All Milam County calls will be answered, even if we have to move it (answering point) to Bell County and transfer them back here,” he said.
“Of course, that wouldn’t be the best for public safety,” Reed said.
Reed said Lampasas County has already decide to consolidate answering points but pointed out that county’s situation is far different from Milam.
“B0th of those 911 answering locations were within a couple of blocks of each other in downtown Lamapasas,” Reed said,