The center, along with many others in the state, has appeared to operate at a deficit for the past two years. A decrease in revenue caused by an increase in cellphone use and how the center is required to show depreciation in its budget are contributing factors.
Funding for the 911 Center comes from a fee individuals pay on their phone bills. As landlines have been replaced with cellphones more of this funding is going to the state level, and less is staying local.
A third-year deficit showing would make the center susceptible to being run by a state agency to find funding solutions.
Emergency Medical Service chief and 911 board chairman Danny Lawson said this may not happen in every case.
Lawson said about 40 percent of the 911 districts are labeled “at-risk,” meaning they have operated in the red for two years. A distressed district has operated at a deficit for three years.
At a recent 911 board meeting, a plan was proposed for the city of Cleveland to cover the $351,000 needed for this fiscal year if the county will reimburse the money next year, according to finance committee chair Connie Wilson. This idea has not been voted on by either legislative body.
“That would ... be setting a priority for 911 in next year’s 2013 budget,” Wilson said.
This would give the department two years to find a way to solve the funding issue.
Although this would solve the immediate problem, there are no guarantees of a long-term solution in the near future, Lawson said.
Committee member Ed Elkins asked how other counties were solving this issue.
Lawson said some counties had the option to raise the fee on landlines. However, the rate in Bradley County is already at the highest the state will allow.
“We’ve been 10 years or so without an increase and we’ve done OK. There are many factors that influence this, primarily technology,” Lawson said.
Many new technologies other than phones can now access 911 and are not charged any fee.
“Whatever medium contacts 911 should pay the same fee, whatever that is,” Lawson said. “I’m speaking individually, but 911 users should be able to fund 911.”
Long-term solutions to funding the 911 Center need to come from state legislation, Lawson said. Previous legislation was not supported by the Tennessee Emergency Numbers Association and did not pass, according to Lawson.
Elkins said the county finance committee did not have enough information about next year’s budget to make a decision. Wilson said the finance committee should meet with local legislatures to discuss the issue.
Cleveland-Bradley County 911 presented this concern to the Bradley County Commission last year. At that time, a long-term solution only seemed possible if the state changed how it saw depreciation in the budget.
The 911 Board will meet again on Friday to further discuss the issue, according to Wilson.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the finance committee also chose to postpone making a decision on a budget amendment request from the Bradley County Sheriff’s office requesting $90,000 toward expected gasoline expenses for the three remaining months of this fiscal year. The fiscal year ends June 30.
Wilson suggested the committee ask Sheriff Jim Ruth to see if unused funds in the salary budget could be used for the costs. Granting the request would put the county’s general fund balance below the desired level.
A budget amendment accepting payment for officers’ special detail work in the community was accepted.
Budget amendments for the Emergency Management Agency and Health Department were also passed.