Scott Co. officials want to merge 911 centers

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Scott City is in favor of the idea; Sikeston has not yet decided.

BENTON, Mo. -- The Scott County Commission is encouraging Sikeston and Scott City to join with the county to consolidate their 911 call centers.

Commissioners want to explore the possibility of consolidating call centers to offset declining revenue from 911 phone taxes charged on land-line phones.

In recent years, revenue has fallen due to more county residents switching from land-line phones to cell phones only, said Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel.

The decline has caused the county to take money out of its general revenue fund to operate its new E-911 call center in Benton. This year the county will likely have to spend $100,000 out of general revenue to operate the center, on top of about $200,000 the county expects to receive from the tax. Last year the county received nearly $225,000 from the tax.

Priggel said the tax's average cost to a phone customer in the county is $1.50 per month. The problem of declining revenue is not one that threatens the operation of the E-911 center, Priggel said, but it is a problem that will only become worse in future years as more residents go to cell phones only.

Scott City, Sikeston and Scott County all have their own separate 911 call centers. However, Scott County has more up-to-date technology than the other two.

Commissioners have approached the governments of both cities with the proposal. Scott City Mayor Tim Porch said he's committed to folding his city's 911 service into the county's and says the change is inevitable for his city.

"We're going in with the county in a year or two anyway," Porch said. "The tax we get for our 911 system won't even be a drop in the bucket to the cost it will take to update when we have to."

Porch said software and equipment upgrades will be necessary within that time frame. Last year the city took in about $30,000 in 911 phone taxes, which Porch said is enough to keep the operation going but not enough to pay for upgrades.

Sikeston city manager Doug Friend said his city isn't committed to the idea yet. Many aspects of the situation, such as finances and services, need to be considered before a decision can be made, he said.

Sikeston pulls in about $225,000 per year from its tax, Friend said.

Under the commission's proposal, 911 taxes from the cities and the county would be pooled into one fund to operate the county's call center.

The proposal would also create an 11-member board independent of the county commission to administer the funds. The board would be made up of five members from the county's southern district, five from the northern district and one member at large.

County commissioners say they're ready to act on the proposal as soon as possible. The time frame will depend on how quickly they receive an answer from Sikeston.

335-6611, extension 182

County revenue from 911 tax in 2005 -- $225,000

Estimated revenue in 2006 -- $200,000

Estimated cost from general revenue in 2006 -- $100,000

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