During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Pike County Fiscal Court approved raising the county 911 surcharge, which according to officials, is the first time an increase has occurred in nine years.
The rate was $1.41 per month, per landline phone, until the court approved raising the surcharge to $2.40 in an effort to better support the county’s 911 call service and board, as it currently owes the county more than $380,000 and doesn’t have the funds necessary to pay that off.
“We’ve got more than $230,000 in the bank at the current time,” County Emergency Management Director Doug Tackett said.
Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones asked Tackett how the board got in such a deficit. Tackett said that it was something that occurred over a period of time due to a number of factors.
According to Tackett, the board is funded through surcharges on county landline telephones, which has seen a decrease in use as cell phones have gotten more prominent.
“When I first started in 1995 we were funded by 28,000 phone lines in the county,” Doug Tackett said. “But, with population decline through the years and the loss of landline telephones we’re down with Bell South to 14,000 landlines county-wide.”
Tackett added there is also a “handful” of smaller telephone companies that sell service in the county with roughly 3,000 lines, which gives 911 services around 17,000 landlines to work with.
According to Tackett, the board does receive a small amount of money from cell phone calls, but 73 percent of those funds are used to pay dispatcher salaries. Tackett said that is split up between Pike and Floyd counties, as it is dispersed through the Pike and Floyd County Regional Wireless 911 Board.
Tackett said that the loss of population in the area has also directly impacted funding, as more people move out that mean fewer landlines to collect surcharges from.
According to Jones, there is a provision that allows the 911 board to change the fee periodically, based on the consumer price index. However Tackett said an increase has not been made since 2011, although he said prior fiscal court administrations of the need for an increase.
“We were basically told that the court wouldn’t approve any kind of increase,” Tackett said.
According to Jones, this matter was just brought to his attention “a few days ago” as Tackett had been gathering information to present to the court. Jones asked Tackett what would happen if the court hypothetically did what prior administrations had done and “did nothing” regarding the rates. Tackett said it would “jeopardize” the 911 system.
“Our 911 system would go down to the point to where the county would have be subsidizing it totally if it were to stay in existence,” Tackett said.
He added that the system would be jeopardized in a number of ways, such as the ability to pay for services at Kentucky State Police Dispatch Post 9 and the ability to maintain emergency service radio communication systems, something Tackett said is almost 20-years-old.
Jones said the situation with 911 services’ infrastructure is “eerily” similar to the situation the court walked into regarding the state of its Solid Waste Department. Tackett said when the court started looking into the financial state of its Solid Waste Department, it motivated him to look into the 911 board’s status and, with the help of County Treasurer Frankie Stacy, the two were able to put the numbers together.
Jones said he questions why the boards wasn’t allowed to raise the rate to at least what the CPI had called for so it would have been easier for taxpayers to bear, instead of having to raise the rate substantially at one time.
“It’s the same thing with the garbage,” Jones said. “These small increments can be absorbed into people’s budget and then this matter gets dumped on this court because it’s been neglected like a lot of other things.
“These decisions aren’t easy and they don’t make you very popular,” he added.
The court approved raising the surcharge from $1.41 per month, for a total of $287,640 per year, to $2.40 per month, for a total of $489,600 and, with that increase, which the board voted to make, Tackett said it would put the board on good enough footing to have money in reserve in order to maintain radio systems.
Dist. 2 Commissioner Jason Tackett cast the sole “No” vote saying he supports the service 100 percent, but didn’t feel comfortable approving a rate increase at the time due to having just been made aware of the situation and would have liked to see if there was other ways of possibly funding the board before raising the surcharge.