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E-911 future is discussed

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

BENTON -- Declining revenues and increased costs for E-911 dispatching have county and city officials considering joining forces.

Scott County commissioners discussed the future of E-911 services in the county during their regular meeting Tuesday.

"We're trying to consolidate it in the county, and maybe regionalize it," said Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel.

In December, the county's E-911 equipment was upgraded and moved to the Scott County Jail by commissioners to establish the Scott County Communications Center.

"All three of us have worked very hard on this 911," said Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn.

County officials are now discussing with officials from Scott City and Sikeston, which each collect E-911 taxes and maintain their own E-911 dispatching centers, the possibility of pooling their resources to establish one countywide E-911 dispatching center.

"I'm excited about it because it's coming back to the table -- it was on the table many years ago," Ziegenhorn said. "Because of economics, it makes more sense to do this as a county and maybe even regionalize it someday."

Revenue for E-911 services comes from a tax on conventional land lines, commissioners noted, but the number of land lines in use is declining.

"Everybody's using cell phones," Ziegenhorn said.

Priggel pointed out that unlike land lines, there is no E-911 tax on cell phones to pay for E-911 dispatching.

"And at the same time we have to have more and better equipment to handle the cell phone calls and to locate where the calls are coming from," he said.

Priggel said E-911 dispatching costs are going up in other ways as well such as telephone networking, which is now 50 percent more than when the system was originally put in, and for personnel with salaries and insurance going up.

"At our mayors meeting the other day we talked about it," Priggel said, adding that Scott City's mayor responded favorably. "They're putting a lot of general revenue into it, just like the county, to subsidize it."

"The one thing that everybody is faced with is their systems are antiquated," Burger said. "If you buy a computer today, by tomorrow it's outdated. With 911, we have the latest system available and it's a stackable system -- for future expansion, cost will be minimal. It would be pretty simple for us to take in Sikeston and Scott City."

Burger said it makes sense economically to consolidate E-911 centers as all governments with 911 dispatching are putting more and more of their general revenue funds toward subsidizing E-911.

By consolidating, "we could bring all the tax revenues in under one roof and have one system," he said. "We could have a more-efficient system we can run with less people and have a more-efficient and better response to those who are in need. Everybody seemed to be real keen on the idea to put this all under one roof -- it just makes sense."

Ziegenhorn said Sikeston Department of Public Safety Director Drew Juden "has a lot of data he put together on 911 -- Drew has a lot of knowledge on how to make this thing work. With everybody wanting to make it work, it will make it even better."

"The main thing is we think we can reduce expenses for everybody by combining it," he added. "It just makes sense to do it together."

"We know there's going to be a lot of hurdles to overcome," Burger said. "But I think we're well committed to get past all those things to make it happen, financially and operationally."

"It would operate under a countywide board," Priggel said.

Ziegenhorn said if Scott County is able to accomplish a consolidation, they then can serve as a model for other Missouri counties.

Priggel said moving the county's E-911 to the jail did help with costs somewhat, "but we still have to put general revenue money into it."

In other business Tuesday, the county's Board of Equalization closed. There were no appeals, according to County Assessor Teresa Houchin.

Commissioners also heard an informational presentation from Missouri Bootheel Regional Consortium officials.