Landline rates may increase in Upshur County

The cost of having a landline telephone may go up for Upshur County residents soon, as the county commission is searching for revenue to fund the 911 Center operations.

An ordinance to raise the E-911 fee will be the topic of a public hearing at 11 a.m. on Feb. 14. The hearing will be held in the county commission chambers.

The proposal would raise the monthly fee to $4.50 per line for residential customers and to $6.50 for business and Centrex customers. The current fee is $2.65. There are no exemptions to paying the fee, as it is not considered a tax.

“Over the past few years, there has been a 25 to 30 percent reduction of landlines,” County Administrator Willie Parker said, and noted that the current rates brings in about $350,000 in revenue annually.

Funding from cellular phone fees brings in another $500,000, Parker said, but that rate is set at the state level.

The proposal, if implemented, would bring in an additional $225,000, giving the 911 Center a budget of around $1 million annually.

“That covers current expenses, so there is not much room for increases,” Parker said, “unless we are successful in reducing costs.”

Parker said with the advent of newer technologies, more and more people have abandoned their landlines in favor of cellular telephones, which has resulted in a loss of revenue.

Parker said the last increase to the fee was in July 2005, and the county is mandated by state law to provide 911 services. New dispatching requirements coming in the near future will mean the employees will have to undergo additional training.

“I know it is a very small raise, but it is something that has to be considered,” Commissioner J.C. Raffety. “Public safety is one of our basic functions in government.”

Parker said the biggest expenses for the 911 Center is personnel. The revenue generated from the fee would cover that cost, along with the costs of training the employees, equipping the center and the costs of converting rural routes to city-style addresses. He noted that when the 911 service went into operation around 1988, the center typically had just one dispatcher on duty.

Parker said the center now usually has three dispatchers per shift.

“You may never need an ambulance or the fire service,” Commissioner Donnie Tenney said. “But it’s nice to know that if you need it, there’s a good service in place.”