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Who Pays for 911 Service?

You can't call it passing the buck!

by Eric Holdeman / April 2, 2015

If we followed the national trend on everything else in emergency management and the first responder community, the answer to the question above would be "the federal government." It is the first funder of choice! It can keep borrowing and there is no debt limit, so why not have the feds pay for 911 service — everywhere!

Every state has come up with its own convoluted funding solutions for providing a functional 911 service. I think this Emergency Management article is a good one on the topic: The Rising Cost of 911 Emergency Service.

I am, of course, much more familiar with how 911 has been funded here in Washington state and King County, based on my being in the two organizations, state and a county, that administered those funds.

The bottom line is whose responsibility is it, each discipline fire/police, city, county, state, to fund 911 services? Certainly not the feds, but I can see someone trying to make the case for it just to get the dollars.

I'll argue that it is the local jurisdiction's responsibility since it is providing the emergency service response resources. Then, let's talk turf. Ever see separate fire and police 911 centers for the same city/county? What a waste of taxpayers' dollars! You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves for not consolidating your operations! Don't give me this "We are different" baloney! Call it what it is: selfishness and a failure to learn how to share when you attended kindergarten.

Now that I got that off my chest. Here in Washington, we started collecting a fee of 50 cents per land line that was shared between the state and counties back in the mid-1990s. That was to fund Enhanced 911 and location identification. Over the years the fee was adjusted to also cover cellphones, which was a good thing given that people are dropping their land lines.

In reality, smaller jurisdictions with limited call volumes are not going to be able to keep up with the technology wave called next-gen 911 that is upon them now. The choice is to have someone else subsidize their inefficient operations, let their citizens get inadequate services by today's standards, or prod them into consolidation by taking away funding for staffing — another subsidizing of their poor money management.

Personally, I like the way Washington started out with just funding the technology and not staffing of centers. The answer is regional systems, be they in single county or multiple rural counties.  

It is not that complicated. Find a way to do it together. Give your citizens what they should be getting: The most effective and cost-efficient system we can provide.

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