Commission approves 911 fee increase

After hearing concerns and comments from many citizens, Upshur County Commission members have approved an amendment to the Enhanced 911 Ordinance, increasing the current monthly fee on landline telephones from $2.65 overall to $4.50 for residential and $6.50 for businesses and Centrex customers.

Upshur County resident Jerry Kimble said he thinks the increase is “kind of exorbitant,” because it jumps by 63 percent for residents and 145 percent for businesses.

“I thought maybe a smaller raise would take care of it, but I guess maybe not,” Kimble said at a recent commission meeting. “I think as these raises go into effect, that they’ll probably be losing some of these landlines. They (customers) will be going to other means of communication. If they can do it cheaper, I don’t blame them.”

The increase follows a decline in landline services that already has happened in Upshur County, commissioners said, as more people are switching to cellular phones.

County Administrator Willie Parker said the county does receive revenue from cellphones, but that rate is determined by the state. The revenue from cellphones will not increase.

According to a worksheet that outlines the 911 Communication Center expenses, the total estimated cost of current operations is $950,000. The proposed revenue through these changes will increase from a current $775,000 to a proposed $1,000,000.

Dirk Burnside, the radio communications director at the Upshur County Office of Emergency Management, said the amount budgeted for maintenance and equipment, $42,250, was nowhere near the amount it costs to keep up with repairs, much less to move forward.

“That equipment is not cheap. Forty-two thousand dollars won’t touch that,” Burnside said, adding there is no way to budget for better technology and updates. “It’s a travesty.”

Burnside said he believes the OEM should be able to plan ahead for the implementation of Next Generation 911. If funds aren’t set aside, it could complicate progress. He said the radio equipment that dispatches the fire department is 40 years old.

After hearing about the division of expenses, Kimble said, “I don’t think the fee increase is quite as exorbitant as I thought it was. We have to pay our bills to keep going.”

Other speakers addressed concerns with buying land and building a new communications center. Burnside said the Upshur County Communication Center was the first countywide center in the state. Commissioners said they determined it would cost about as much money to repair and upgrade the old facility as it would to build a new one.

“Keep what we have. It’s a fine facility, something we have that we can be proud of,” Burnside said.

Other speakers wanted to know if 911 services would improve with the fee increase. Louise Garrison of Upshur County said that when her husband died on her porch, she called 911 for an ambulance that never got to her home. She said she had to tell the communication center she could get to the hospital before the ambulance responded, and she said she did just that.

Tim Higgins said, “If you’re going to raise this fee, are you going to guarantee me that I will have a phone?” He said his phone service in 2010 equated to only 10 months. He said he needed 911 twice that year, and it took him from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to get the emergency transportation he needed, even after traveling to the fire department at Rock Cave. Higgins said a representative there told him they couldn’t transport him without being dispatched by 911. He said that representative allowed him to use the phone, but wouldn’t call for him.

Commissioner Donnie Tenney said the Public Service Commission is the governing entity for telephone services.

“It’s just hard to deal with. You do the best you can,” Tenney said. “Sometimes when you have storms like that (the June 29 derecho and Superstorm Sandy), you’re at the mercy of the storm.”