The Marshall County Fiscal Court recently tasked Director of Marshall County 911 Misti Drew with educating the public about its 911 budget shortfall and the options for fixing it.
Drew, along with Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars, gave a presentation Wednesday at the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Ponderosa Steakhouse, saying the budget shortfall started around 2010.
Currently, the 911 center has a budget of around $600,000 per year, falling well below the center's need.
"The fiscal court subsidizes about 50 percent of that ($600,000) budget," Drew said. "Our budget needs to be anywhere from $800,000 to $900,000."
With the cost of facilities and equipment issues, Drew said an agency can be duct-taped for only so long.
"You run into all sorts of things when you have an underfunded agency," she said.
According to Drew, the primary funding source for 911 centers across Kentucky is landline telephone fees. However, the landline fee was put into place in 1992 and wasn't coupled with a cost of living adjustment. Also, in 1992 there were some 12,000 landlines in Marshall County.
In 2016 there were about 8,000.
The fiscal court started subsidizing the 911 center with $125,000 in 2010 and has since increased the amount to around $300,000.
The 911 center receives money from wireless fees, but the money is collected differently. Wireless fees are collected and sent to the Kentucky 911 Services Board, which applies a redistribution formula. After paying administrative costs and separating money for grants, the remaining money is distributed to centers throughout the state. Drew said Marshall County gets about $150,000 from wireless fees annually.
Drew said one option being considered would eliminate the landline fees and the fiscal court taxpayer subsidy of $300,000. It's an annual flat fee based on occupied property parcels.
It would appear annually on a homeowner's property tax statement and is not based on the value of the property. Drew said the fee would be about $3 or $4 per month.
For example, if a landlord owned four apartment buildings, the landlord would be charged $3 or $4 per occupied space per month. However, if someone owned a piece of land with no one occupying the space, there would be no fee applied to that property.
"It would allow the funding to be shared more equally," Drew said.
She explained that the fiscal court could instead continue to subsidize the 911 center, but eventually the public will see tax increases.
"They just can't afford to keep doing it, because if they could we wouldn't be having this discussion," she said.
Another option would be to outsource the 911 center to the Kentucky State Police, a measure being considered also by McCracken County. But Byars said that would be a bad idea because Marshall County gets more than 100,000 calls per year.
"Our 100,000 call volume, if they took that on, we would easily double their workload, if not triple it," he said.
He explained that state police said if Marshall County 911 did outsource to them, they would receive only one dedicated full-time dispatcher at any given moment.
Currently, Marshall County has two full-time dispatchers on at all times. Response times for emergency services, he said, would slow down significantly.
More meetings are scheduled to inform the public and gather opinions in the coming days. Drew said she expects the fiscal court to make a decision soon, though whatever is decided probably wouldn't be implemented for another year.
The next town hall meetings will be 6:30 p.m. today at the South Marshall Fire Station, 6:30 p.m. April 27 at the Benton Fiscal Court Room and 6:30 p.m. May 4 at the Hardin Community Center.
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