Combining four 911 call centers in Franklin County to possibly save taxpayer money remains an unresolved issue.
Asked whether he thinks combining the centers would save money, First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said, “That’s a good question.”
Last week, State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, told The Missourian that he thinks the four centers could be combined into one to save taxpayer money.
Combining the centers has been considered, but there has been no cost analysis, said Brinker, who serves on the Emergency Communications Management Board.
But Brinker said consolidating the centers could cost money when it comes to equipment and switching over operations.
“We’re always open to opinions, but from our perspective right now to condense into one unit is going to require more funding,” said Brinker.
The four 911 call centers in Franklin County are called public safety access points. They are at the sheriff’s office, Washington Police Department, Pacific administration building and the Sullivan Police Department.
Combining the centers could create efficiencies such as shared software and phone lines, Hinson said, adding that there is no reason to split the funding four ways.
But Brinker noted that there are advantages to having multiple call centers because it provides backup if one center fails.
“We look forward to being able to condense our services, but there are benefits to redundancies as well,” Brinker said.
Hinson said neighboring counties, such as Warren and Jefferson, could provide backup 911 dispatching if the local facilities were combined into one. He is familiar with emergency communication matters as a paramedic in St. Louis County.
If St. Louis County can consolidate 911 services under one roof, other counties can too, Hinson said.
But Brinker said, “I don’t know what happens in St. Louis County, but here in Franklin County we do things a little differently in terms of taking our time and making sure we do it right.”
The issue over combining the centers comes at a time when 911 tax revenue is declining due to lower landline use. The landline telephone tax is on the decline as more people switch to solely using cellphones.
In 2011, the landline tax brought in more than $1 million; 2012, $993,813; and $957,330 in 2013, according to information from Brinker.
“One thing that we do know for sure is that 911 funding is diminishing as proven through the numbers,” Brinker said, adding that this is a statewide issue, not just a local matter.
As a result of the declining revenue, Brinker voiced support this year for a bill that would have allowed the public to vote on whether to impose a cellphone fee of up to $1.50 per device to fund 911 services.
Hinson said the bill won’t pass until counties get serious about creating efficiencies through consolidation.
Brinker retorted, “We’ll get serious when we get some funding ability because right now it’s shrinking.”
Brinker said this was the first time he heard that consolidation would be required in order for the bill to pass.
He noted that the bill would not have imposed the cellphone fee but simply given the state’s residents a chance to decide the issue. But the Legislature chose not to give the people that chance, he said. The bill passed the House in March but died in the Senate, Brinker said.
Hinson was one of 29 members who opposed the bill in the House, and 115 were in favor.