Orleans, other counties say 911 money diverted by state

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 October 2016 at 11:24 am
File photo by Tom Rivers: Bill Oliver, a dispatcher for 25 years, talks over the air in this photo from April 2015.

File photo by Tom Rivers: Bill Oliver, a dispatcher for 25 years, talks over the air in this photo from April 2015.

ALBION – Orleans County officials are joining a movement – Rescue 911 – to have the state stop diverting money for dispatch and 911.

The New York State Association of Counties and the NY Sheriffs Association are both stepping up efforts to have the state give back more money to modernize 911 systems so they can better handle text messages and enhanced GPS.

The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office has two full-time dispatchers working around the clock. Sheriff Randy Bower said the dispatch handles about 30,000 calls annually and serves all of the county.

The state imposes surcharges on cellphone bills that are supposed to raise money for 911 phone systems. New York’s surcharge of about $1.20 per month generated $185 million last year, but only $70 million went back to 911 systems, with the state using a big chunk of the money for its own budget.

The federal government is requiring states and localities to adopt Next Generation 911 standards. Equipment and technology costs associated with New York’s NG911 services are expected to approach $2.2 billion over the next 10 years, NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties) said.

“Unless and until counties have access to a dedicated revenue stream to help pay for the system upgrades and new communications equipment, NG911 will be out of reach for many areas of the state. That’s what this campaign is all about,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “In order to meet the expectations of the millions of New Yorkers who are calling and texting 911 from their cell phone, we need to upgrade our systems.”

In the 1960’s emergency phone calls came through dedicated phone lines into the homes, and workers would then notify the fire department, NYSAC said.

As these emergency call services were consolidated under 911, the function was taken over by the state police. Today, most of the state’s 911 emergency communication systems are operated and funded at the county level. However, in the absence of additional resources many counties will be unable to finance public safety upgrades and equipment without a more dedicated revenue stream, Acquario said in a news release.

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