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Gering unsure how to fund 911 services
October 19, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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After Monday’s meeting of Gering’s Public Safety Committee, members are still undecided how to fund $80,000 in requested support to upgrade the county communications center.

A letter from the Scott Bluff County Commissioners last August stated the county needs help in upgrading its emergency communications equipment, some of which has become technologically obsolete.

Ten local communities are dispatched through the county communications center. Each was asked to help support, on a population basis, paying for the $349,000 in needed upgrades this fiscal year. The Village of Henry approved $510 and Morrill is providing $8,270. The City of Scottsbluff has approved $70,000 with additional help possible in the future.

Members of the Gering City Council had acknowledged the need to help support the center that provides vital 911 services to the area. But coming up with a formula that works has been a challenge.

“There’s no doubt we need to help,” said Gering council member Julie Morrison during the meeting. “Finding out what our money is going for and how much we can afford is what I’m curious about.”

Also in attendance to help explain the county’s position was Ray Richards, director of the county communications center. He said the center’s radio console has been online for the past 14 years and never been off. With advances in technology and the age of the console, it’s expected to last only until early 2015.

“None of us have a crystal ball,” said council member Jill McFarland, “but what we’d like to see is an itemized list of what is needed over the next three to five years. That would assure us there are no surprises in the future.”

Both mayors came up with the idea to ask for funds based on population. But McFarland said the formula is “terribly flawed” because the numbers don’t work. By her calculations, the population based formula collects $272,000 more funding than the county is asking.

Gering Fire Chief Jay Templar said the area fire districts have a similar financial agreement, but it’s based on assessed valuation in each community.

“You have to actually calculate the numbers,” McFarland. “I’d be willing to say this wouldn’t work either because it’s the same premise as one based on population.”

Another proposal that seemed to have more interest was a plan that would levy a flat one dollar monthly fee on all cell phone users within the City of Gering. The fee would sunset in three years.
“That makes sense,” McFarland said. “Do away with the duplication of whether someone is a county or a city resident. This would be easy to explain.”

Morrison said the city’s budget could handle $40,000 in assistance and raise the remaining $40,000 through the cell phone user fee. “We have to come up with a way to help fund this service because it’s so vital to all of us.”

The committee agreed to have the city conduct additional research into the number of cell phone users with Gering addresses and determine how much could be raised through the one dollar fee.
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