If This Bill Doesn't Pass, Some Counties May Lose 911 Services

Surcharge keeps 911 centers running, as they don’t receive any funding from the state.

by Kara Berg, Belleville News-Democrat / May 31, 2017
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(TNS) - If the Illinois General Assembly doesn’t pass a bill to renew and amend the Emergency Telephone Act, some residents may lose 911 service.

Funding and authorization for 911 service is set to expire July 1, 2017, which would lead to dispatchers not being allowed to provide service.

Senate Bill 1839 amends the existing Emergency Telephone Act and extends the expiration date until the end of 2020. It also would raise the monthly surcharge that each phone-owner pays from .87 cents to $1.50. The surcharge keeps 911 centers running, as they don’t receive any funding from the state.

The 2015 ETA projected the surcharge would generate more money than actually came in to call centers, said Sandy Beitel, president of the Illinois National Emergency Number Association. Surcharge revenue was projected to be $131.9 million, but only came in at $95.2 million, according to a March Illinois State Police report.

If Senate Bill 1839 doesn’t become law, 911 services could shut down across the state. The legislative session ends Wednesday night.

“Try to put it in perspective. If you buy Starbucks once a day and spend $5-$6 on one coffee...we’re asking for $1.50 a month to protect people’s lives and property,” she said. “For many systems, [this law] the difference between staying open and turning the lights off.”

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who filed the surcharge amendment to the clerk Tuesday, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Members of the St. Clair County Emergency Telephone Systems Board are urging Illinois residents to call Gov. Bruce Rauner to protect 911 services.

More funding is needed to modernize the 911 systems as well, said Herb Simmons, executive director of the board. The modernization, New Generation 911, will allow citizens to contact emergency responders by calling, texting and sending photos and videos.

“Lawmakers must act to reauthorize 911 service, and to provide critical new revenue to modernize 911 systems and begin the process of upgrading to Next Generation 911 service,” Simmons said in a news release.

Call centers are also under fire to reduce the number of public safety answering points . St. Clair County must reduce its number from eight to four. State law had mandated a 50 percent cut in the number of answering points in counties with more than 250,000 residents.

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©2017 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

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