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Dispatching charges may increase in county

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BENTON -- Scott County commissioners are looking at increasing dispatching charges next year in an effort to make ends meet.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, Scott County commissioners discussed the possibility of raising dispatching charges with Herman Sadler, administrator for the South Scott County Ambulance District.

The Scott County Communications Center dispatches roughly 400 calls per month from E-911 for the South Scott County Ambulance District.

The district currently pays $17,500 per year to the county for the services.

Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn asked Sadler if the district could afford to pay two or even three times that amount.

"We don't want to lose you but we don't want to rob you," he said.

The problem on the county's end is that E-911 tax revenues have dropped from $238,000 per year in 2004 to $182,000 in 2006.

The E-911 tax appears on land-line bills only and more and more people are abandoning their land lines in favor of cell phones, commissioners explained.

"And we have to just keep spending more money on our equipment upgrades," Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel said.

Commissioner Jamie Burger said the total expenses for the county's communications center was $380,569 for 2006 so far.

The county has been able to make up the difference over the last couple of years but commissioners are now looking at how to deal with the deficit they expect next year.

"The surplus we've been living off of is gone," Burger noted.

Increasing charges for entities that the Scott County Communications Center dispatches for appears to be the county's only option at this point as efforts to add a E-911 tax to cell phones have all failed.

Burger said commissioners are now trying to provide the various entities they dispatch for with a "heads up on what's going on, where we're at.

"We don't want to blindside anybody," he said. "We want to make them aware of what's on the horizon."

To address the projected deficit, commissioners are considering two different methods for increasing the cost of providing dispatching services.

One is to have a set charge per call dispatched. The other method under consideration is to look at the percentage of calls dispatched for each entity in 2006 and increase charges accordingly to make up the deficit.

"That seems like that would be the fairest," Burger said.

In any case, commissioners said they are trying to find "the best way, the cheapest way," Priggel said.

"And the fairest way," Burger added.

Commissioners declined Tuesday to guess at how much the increase will be. "I'd hate to undershoot or overshoot it by too much," Priggel said.

"I think we can come up with a rough number Thursday afternoon," Burger said.

Commissioners asked Sadler to contact the commission with any questions and said the ambulance district is doing a good job serving the county.

Ziegenhorn noted that it is not just Scott County that is experiencing this problem with declining E-911 revenues. "Cell phones are the way of doing things," he said.