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911 Funding

State Rep. Warner McBride (left) listens to House colleague Joe Gardner discuss 911 fees following a supervisors’ meeting Monday. Sen. Nolan Mettetal was also discussing the issue with McBride and Gardner. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

County hears pitch to increase 911 fees

By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors were asked Monday to lobby for revamping Mississippi’s 911 funding to stay current with federal laws and changing technology.

The 2008 federal law adds telephone Internet service to 911 service fees, but Mississippi currently does not charge a monthly fee for the fast-growing service, the county board was told.

Representatives from the Miss. Association of Supervisors broached the topic, along with other legislative issues, in a 20-minute meeting with supervisors.

Panola County’s state House and Senate delegation also attended Monday to hear the pitch for legislative action.

The telephone Internet service, known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), had grown to 399,571 Mississippi customers by 2007, according to figures provided Monday. That figure has jumped from 21,185 users in 2001.

“That is $400,000 a month that is not being collected,” Craig Hitt, a Lauderdale County supervisor who is pushing for an updated state law, told the county board. 

In Mississippi, cell phone users currently see a  $1 monthly fee for emergency 911 service, while land line users pay $1 for residential use and pay $2 per line for commercial use. Seventy percent of those funds are returned to Mississippi counties to pay for 911 operations.

But landline usage is dwindling, even in rural Mississippi, as cell phone users end that service, which shrinks the revenue source for 911 funding.

Pre-paid wireless service, which uses the 911 service but does not pay for it, is also eroding revenues from contracted cell phone usage, MAS representatives also said.

“The reason we’re discussing this is that the law needs to be revisited. It’s antiquated,” MAS executive director Derrick Surrette told the county board.

The federal law also mandates a uniform fee, so the proposed legislation would raise all fees to $1.50, which would drop the commercial landline fee and raise the two others.

The 50-cent monthly fee increase would help Panola County’s E-911 system, which is “breaking even but not getting ahead,” said Daniel Cole, who oversees the operations as director of Emergency Management.

Cole described the 911 finances after fielding a question from state Rep. Warner McBride.

Cole went on to explain that Panola County cannot afford to move to a “phase two” of compliancy unless it receives more revenue. The county is currently in phase one of two phases, he said.

Phase two of the 911 system includes a costly mapping system that would allow the cell phone user to be located when the emergency call is made.

Steve Gray, director of Governmental Affairs for the MAS, also told supervisors the state organization is asking for help after legislators approved a new cap on homestead exemption, from $75,000 to $100,000.

The new exemption, while beneficial to homeowners, has hurt the state’s counties, he said. An attempt to add amendments to the bill failed last year.