Next-Gen 911

Veto Threat Stirs Worries for 911 Call Center Funding in Illinois

The existing funding mechanism expires June 30. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has called the increases excessive and Rauner has asked lawmakers for a new version.

by Nick Draper, Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill. / June 28, 2017
Communications terminal in a 911 call center. Mark Randall/Sun Sentinel/MCT

(TNS) -- Emergency dispatchers say they fear a threatened veto of a bill that would extend funding for 911 call centers could hamper life-saving efforts.

Senate Bill 1839 would raise telephone surcharges dedicated for 911 services from 87 cents to $1.50 a month in most of the state and from $3.90 to $5 in Chicago. The increases are seen as a way to maintain funding levels in light of sharp declines in the number of people who still have landline telephone service.

The existing funding mechanism expires Friday. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has called the increases excessive and Rauner has asked lawmakers for a new version.

Without an extension or other legislation in place, dispatch centers could lose funding, administrators say.

Morgan County Emergency Services Director Phil McCarty said the surcharge hike in central Illinois would be about $7.68 for a single-line customer. A hike would provide updated technology to call centers, he said, allowing for such service upgrades as 911 texting and video communications.

“It’s not just that we would lose funds for our upgrades, we would lose funds totally,” McCarty said. “Our 86 cents expires on June 30 and until they pass something again, it’s lost. There’s no recovery to that. That money is gone and yet we will still have to provide services.”

He stressed that services would continue, but “it takes funding to provide services and that sets a dangerous precedent.”

Jason Heffley, policy adviser for the Office of the Governor, said Rauner supports 911 services. He cited two increases Chicago has put into place in the past four years as reasons for the governor’s belief the hikes are unacceptable.

Mayor Andy Ezard urged aldermen to contact the governor and request action be taken to keep 911 services funded.

“We need the governor to take action on this bill,” McCarty said. “Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer and Sen. Sam McCann support this bill. They’ve done their part. It’s in the governor’s hands to take action on it.

“I respect change and respect the need for resolution and compromise, but I don’t think this should come at a cost to public safety.”

©2017 the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (Jacksonville, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.