Cleveland-Bradley County 911 is no different but measures are being considered by local governments to fill the gap and enable the local center to end the fiscal year in the “black,” according to Joe Wilson, director.
“It’s not the local government’s fault. When our 911 district was established, landlines (home phones) were more prominent. Today, cell technology has improved and approximately 75 percent of the 911 calls received are from the wireless cellphone,” Wilson said.
Wilson said landline phones brought revenue of $1.50 monthly per phone and 97 percent of that came to support operations.
“With the change throughout the years to more cellphone users, from which we only get $1 of revenue, that has created the revenue decline which has put us in the negative for the past two years. This is the third year and we need to end in the black to avoid a state oversight [action]. We must end the year in the black according to state law,” Wilson explained.
“We have not had an increase in our budget in the last 10 years, primarily because we didn’t ask for it. We had a healthy fund balance and underspent in our budget until two years ago. Our fund balance increased every year and now we are going in the fund balance to operate,” he said.
The culprit shortfall was created by the trend toward cellphones and away from landlines which provided less revenue to the local 911 centers.
Of the 100 districts, Wilson said one-third of the districts are in the red at some level, whether they are in the initial stages or more progressed, where state oversight is triggered.
“This is what we need to avoid. We want our financial decisions to be made by local government and not by a board at the state level. The state really doesn’t want that any more than we do,” he said.
“They don’t have enough personnel to monitor all of the district financial activities,” Wilson added.
Wilson said the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board is charged by law to provide oversight and get involved if a district begins to have three consecutive years of financial woes.
The local 911 board representatives from Cleveland, Bradley and Charleston are working on a plan to keep state oversight at bay.
Cleveland and Bradley County and the city of Charleston would provide an additional $351,000 to get through the fiscal year ending June 30.
“That would get us in the black and push state oversight out for at least three years,” Wilson said.
Danny Lawson, 911 chairman said, “We made a decision to establish a consolidated 911 in 1997. We need to fund it.”
“Wherever technology goes, they need to pay those fees. People change their modes of communication,” he said.
Lawson was referring to the changes in technology which impacted and continue to affect 911 revenues.
According to Wilson, cell carriers pay the TECB which directs only approximately 70 percent back to the district(s).
“That is less than half of what we used to get from landline phones. We still get revenue, but it is down due to the increased cellphone usage,” Wilson said.
TECB also issues grant monies back to districts, but that money can only be used for specific needs.
The 911 committee is looking into approaching legislators to amend the law to help address the shortfalls in Bradley County as well as aid other districts.
Attending the meeting were Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, Lawson, Charleston Police chief Hank Hayden, County Commissioners Louie Alford and Connie Wilson, City Manager Janice Casteel, city finance administrator Mike Keith, city accountant Amy Newman and assistant director Sherri Maxfield as well as Wilson.
“We appreciate the support we have always received from the local government and are encouraged by their efforts to keep us out of the negative column,” Wilson said.