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County officials ponder hike in 911 fee

February 27, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A proposal to increase the monthly 911 fee paid by county residents from $1.50 to $2.75 would help with the purchase and installation of a new radio system and with the refurbishment and redesign of the existing 911 center, said Central Dispatch Director Mary Kackley.

Both would help citizens and emergency responders, Kackley said Thursday.

Comments about the proposed fee increase will be accepted during a public hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. on March 18, during the Berkeley County Commission meeting. Copies of Central Dispatch's 10-year plan (2004-2014) will be available at the meeting.

The 911 fee is collected through local telephone bills. Kackley said the current $1.50 fee was implemented in 1996; before that, a 73-cent per month, per phone line fee was established in the late 1980s.

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If the $2.75 fee is approved, it would be the seventh-highest in the state. Morgan County's fee is $2.50 a month, while Jefferson County residents pay $1.90.

Cell phone users are charged $1.48 a month, Kackley said.

At the Berkeley County Commission meeting Thursday morning, Commissioner Howard Strauss said the increased "user fee" is needed to help pay for projected 911-related expenses.

"The public is getting a big service for this and it comes at a cost," he said.

At the meeting, Kackley gave the commissioners a copy of a 10-year plan prepared by members of the 911 Advisory Committee, which details what Central Dispatch needs and how much money will be raised if the fee is increased.

Between 2004 and 2014, salaries for dispatchers need to be increased to help attract and retain employees, Kackley said in an interview after the meeting. Four dispatcher vacancies exist now, she said.

Also in the next 10 years three dispatcher positions and a supervisor's position should be added, she said.

The 911 center, at 802 S. Queen St., is small, prompting Kackley to propose that an addition be built, a new building be constructed, or other offices in the building be moved to allow for expansion.

"We are so cramped for space that any way they go would be a positive for us," she said.

Four work stations are in place, but Kackley said seven are needed. The longest Kackley said she could continue to operate from her current facility is two or three years.

"We just don't have any additional office space," she said.

The new radio system, which Kackley said she hopes will be installed by the end of 2005, will replace an existing system that has become outdated and overwhelmed.

"It was never designed for the amount of radio traffic that's currently on it," she said.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who use the radio system now can find "good coverage" in 70 percent to 75 percent of the county, Kackley said. Implementing the new system, including adding more tower sites, will allow for 95 percent to 98 percent coverage, including from inside buildings, Kackley said.

More radio channels will be added and the new system will be primarily digital rather than analog. It is expected to cost $2.5 million, with payments to be stretched out over the next 10 years.

If the monthly 911 fee is raised to $2.75, over the next 10 years, nearly $17.2 million will be raised. Another $2.5 million will be raised via cell phone 911 fees.

Expenditures between now and 2014 are projected to be $18 million.

Other uses for the money include replacing the center's 15-year-old phone system and paying for employee training, equipment and maintenance of the equipment.

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