Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

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March 13, 2014

Ray of hope for county’s 911 — Last week’s election results offered a ray of hope for Garvin County’s 911 emergency dispatch center, at least when it comes to funding.

A portion of a countywide half cent sales tax approved by voters is earmarked to provide some funding to the operation of the county’ call center housed in Pauls Valley.

For coordinator Doug Walling that’s good news, especially since the center has never before received any county funds to supplement its only source up to now, fees attached to phones.

“This is great news,” Walling said. “It will help alleviate a lot of problems at 911.”

The renewal of the sales tax for another seven years includes 12 1/2 percent going to support the 911 center.

Both Walling and Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes have said this move is a big one because it provides the center with a steady and reliable source of revenue.

Until this election the only thing supporting the center were the fees on land line and cell phones.

Walling has stressed those revenues have always been designed to fund the center’s equipment needs only. That’s left few options for the personnel working in the center.

“The fees were never meant to fund the dispatching,” Walling said.

“This frees up those fees for the 911 equipment,” he said. “That’s what the 911 phone fees were originally intended for.”

With no funding source in place for personnel Walling says it’s been difficult keeping dispatchers in the center as many have received their training here but left for higher paying jobs elsewhere.

The hope now is the tax funds going to the center will keep the salaries and benefits for dispatchers at a competitive level, resulting in more stability for the staff and even increased training for additional emergency situations.

“Once we start realizing the money we’ll get a better picture of where the salaries should be,” he said.

As for the phone fees, work is continuing at the legislative level to get some of those fees increased because of changing usage of phones.

Currently there is a $4 fee on land line phone accounts, while it’s only 50 cents for a cell phone.

With fewer land lines being used it’s dramatically reduced revenues funding 911.

If legislation is ever put in place the citizens in each county could have the chance to vote to increase those cell phone fees.

According to Walling, the sales tax funds do allow for the fees that are received to better maintain the 911 equipment in the dispatch center and even upgrade when needed.

That he said will help the center provide even better service when emergencies do occur and help is needed.

“The next step is to look at new tech, where people can text in their information,” Walling added.

“This will be a better avenue in reporting 911 emergencies. People will be able to send us pictures, video, so we’ll have a better idea of what the emergency is before anyone even gets there to help.”

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