County proposes higher 911 fee on landline phones

by Kate Shunney

The Morgan County Commission will seek to raise the 911 fee on local telephone landlines from $2.50 per month to $5.00 per month on August 1.

Commissioners voted on Wednesday, June 19 to move ahead with the legal process to raise the fee. That process involves advertising the intention to raise the fee and holding a public hearing about proposed changes to the county’s ordinance about the fee rate.

Officials set a public hearing about the increase for Tuesday, July 30 at 7 p.m. in the County Commission room of the Morgan County Courthouse. A public notice about the proposed change to the 911 fee is published in this issue of The Morgan Messenger.

A copy of the proposed changes to the county’s E-911 Ordinance, which was adopted on December 18, 1998, will be available for review from the County Commission office prior to the public hearing.

That ordinance set the fee at $2.50 per month “to finance the projected costs of the capital improvement, maintenance, and operational costs of the enhanced emergency telephone system. Such fee shall be used to offset initial startup, recurring monthly, maintenance, and dispatching costs associated with enhanced emergency dispatching only.”

County officials want to double that fee, which has not been raised in 20 years. They will also update the ordinance, which only specifies Bell Atlantic Telephone Company of West Virginia as the only phone provider in the county. Commissioners said the ordinance will now apply to all companies that supply landline phone services to homes and businesses in the county, including companies that charge for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone service.

Commissioner Sean Forney said he believes many of those companies already collect the 911 fee for the county.

Mobile phone users also pay a 911 fee, but that fee level is set by the state.

During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Morgan County collected $169,593 from the 911 fee. Collections for the current fiscal year were just below $150,000 at the end of May, according to the County Clerk’s office.

If landline numbers stay the same, the county would expect 911 fee revenue to come in at around $350,000 per year at the proposed rate.

Another proposed change in the fee ordinance is that phone customers with multiple lines would pay $5.00 per month for the first line, plus $0.63 for every line after that.

Forney said he backs the move to increase the local phone fee.

“This will help better prepare future commissions so they’re not in the position we’re in,” he said.

Forney called the state of the Morgan County 911 center and its equipment a “critical situation.”

During a thunderstorm last week, lightening struck some of the 911 center’s equipment, causing the paging system to stop working. That meant emergency tones to local fire departments and other first responders didn’t sound properly.

Just one of three computer-aided dispatch stations at the 911 center work. Phone lines to Morgan County 911 have stopped working for brief periods nearly every month for the last year.

The last three directors of the 911 center have advised county officials that their equipment needed to be replaced and the 911 center itself is not secure or large enough for its purposes.

Commissioner Joel Tuttle, who has served on the commission since 2014, said he didn’t think there was any use to cast blame for why improvements haven’t yet been made. He said the 911 fee increase could pay off improvements being planned right now.