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Berkeley Co. officials concerned with possible wireless changes

April 08, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission on Thursday authorized sending a letter to its state House and Senate delegations urging no drastic changes be made in the way West Virginia distributes money to counties for wireless enhanced 911 service.

"We have already adopted a 10-year plan for our wireless improvement project," County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Thursday. "If they pass this resolution, that will cost us $200,000 a year."

At issue is House Bill 3208, which the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia is concerned will change the way the state's Public Service Commission distributes wireless 911 fees on cellular phones. The adjustment will benefit less-populated counties, but hurt larger ones, including Berkeley and Jefferson, Hammond said.

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"It's going to hurt about 15 counties and hurt two of them big time - Berkeley and Jefferson," said Norwood Bentley, the legal counsel for the county commission.

Over the course of the 10-year plan, that would cost the county about $2 million that it had already built into its projected revenue stream for improving and operating the system. The cost of improving and operating the central dispatching system through 2014, which includes more tower sites for better coverage and a redesigned and expanded center, are estimated at $18 million, according to the plan.

The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that wireless providers, cell phone makers and public safety communications systems allow emergency cell phone calls to be traced to their point of origin. Most 911 systems now only are able to pinpoint calls made from land-line telephones.

Similar improvements are being made in other counties, including Franklin County, Pa., where Emergency Services Director Jerry Flasher said recently that systems will eventually be able to use signal triangulation between cell towers or global positioning technology to track down cell calls.

Berkeley County's plan, approved in March 2004, included an increase in the 911 fee for land-line phones from $1.50 per month to $2.75 and anticipated revenues of $250,000 a year fees imposed by the state on cell phones.

The statewide fee of $1.48 per wireless phone is scheduled to increase to $1.90 in July with 5 cents going to improve state police communications. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday amended the bill to eliminate an increase in the fee to $3 per wireless phone, according to an e-mail from the commissioners' association to Hammond on Tuesday.

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