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Council member discusses 911 fees
February 14, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Toward the end of Monday’s Gering City Council meeting, member Jill McFarland discussed her meeting with county officials on how to support the county’s 911 emergency communications center.

The center has been operating with the original equipment installed when it first opened in the early 1980s.

McFarland and Gering resident Ben Backus met with Ray Richards, the center’s director, and Jerry Crable, the county’s accountant, to discuss the best approach for local municipalities, the customers, to help support the communications center.

“This has been a case of not being proactive,” McFarland told fellow council members. “I cannot believe that over a 25-year period as we watched computers get smaller and cell phones arrive, someone didn’t wonder how that would affect the communications center.”

The new system is currently being installed and should be operational in May. Equipment costs were in the $258,000 range and are a state-of-the-art package that will handle both call taking and dispatching.

McFarland said the reason for the meeting was to discuss 911 fees. Gering has proposed a three percent occupation tax on all cell phones and land line phones. But there’s been some resistance to the proposal from the phone providers that must collect the fees from only the Gering zip code area.

She added the current 911 fee for land lines is one dollar and the cell phone fee is 45 cents per phone. But the number of land lines continues to fall as people opt to go to cell phones. The one dollar fee on land lines usually provides about $180,000 to fund communication center operations.

“One of the biggest problems we have is we cannot come up with a call metric that measures how many calls coming into the center originate from cell phones,” she said. “Cell phone fees are restricted because of that.”

McFarland also pointed out an obvious problem that the county decreased the property tax earmarked for the communications center by $321,000 to divert more tax dollars to the county detention center, although part of that is temporary.

“When I asked how the county would make that budget balance next year, they told me the cities would help out,” she said. “The current management structure doesn’t seem to be working. It’s not proactive in keeping current with technology and it isn’t lobbying with the state for funding and for fewer restrictions.”
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