911 funds drying up, lawmaker proposes higher tax

2013-02-21T15:34:00Z 2013-02-21T22:22:09Z 911 funds drying up, lawmaker proposes higher taxHannah Douglas Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
February 21, 2013 3:34 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | A proposal to raise taxes on cell phone users has been re-introduced in the Illinois House.

With more Illinoisans relying on smart phones and other portable communications devices, the 911 emergency telephone systems that rely on taxes from landline users have seen an alarming reduction in funding in recent years. The proposal would raise cell charges to $1 per month, up from the current 73 cents.

As landline numbers have dwindled, state Rep. Donald Moffitt, R-Gilson, says some 911 call centers remain on the brink of closing.

“There are some 911 call centers that are about to go under, and when and if they do ... the protocol is the state would take over the operation of 911 call centers, and (we) would try and be proactive and get the discussion going before that would happen," said Moffitt, who introduced a similar measure two years ago that stalled in the Legislature.

As of December, 87 percent of American adults own a cellular phone, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

However, Moffitt said the proposal should be viewed as a “work in progress.”

“My objective is to bring the parties together, and continue to try to work toward a consensus,” Moffitt said.

Yet, there is a time frame for discussion. The 911 act was set to expire April 1, but has been extended to July 1.

Matthew Johnson, president of the Illinois Telecommunications Association, said the proposal provides an opportunity to discuss 911 funding issues and explore options like consolidating centers.

“Basic financial reporting and accountability standards for systems on what they can use their funding for, I think is a reasonable thing,” Johnson said. “I think questions should be asked about using the hundreds of millions of dollars that are potentially going into the 911 systems.”

Greg Nimmo, 911 coordinator at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office, said his office consolidated two years ago due to a lack of funding, taking on law enforcement dispatch for the Nokomis Police Department and the Litchfield Police Department.

Nimmo said with the exception of added duties, there weren’t many procedural changes following the consolidation. However, funding remains an issue, with the office using the general fund instead of the 911 emergency fund, he said.

“Most rural counties anywhere near our population … we’re all in a struggling mess, and everybody’s trying to figure out how to operate,” Nimmo said.

The legislation is House Bill 1212.

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