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Wright says 911 tab not fully paid

February 20, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Millions of dollars in unplanned expenses loom ahead as part of Berkeley County's 911 enhancement project, County Commissioner John E. Wright said Sunday.

Every ambulance, fire truck and police car needs to be updated, along with the radio towers, Wright said.

"That's going to make the total of 911 conversion well into the millions," he said.

Using an annual 911 surcharge residents have paid with their telephone bills, the county has created a fund to pay for the work on roads and addresses, which began about five years ago. However, the money in that fund can't be used for radio equipment or repairs, Wright said.

The County Commission has not set aside money for radio replacements and will have to find a way to put it in the budget, perhaps over time, he said.

"A bond would fail. A referendum would fail," Wright said. "A tax increase would infuriate people."

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It is unlikely that the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, will include money for the radio replacements and upgrades. As they work to put together a budget by next month, commissioners have said they already face having to make about $800,000 in cuts.

The county's budget for the current fiscal year now stands at about $12.3 million, according to County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm-Hammond.

A group called Berkeley County Citizens for Common Sense 911 formed last year to fight the project and unsuccessfully sued the county.

Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said the 911 changes are essential to eliminate potential delays responding to emergency calls. "The County Commission is only trying to save lives and property," he said, noting that many roads had been without names.

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