State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he is “80 percent confident” a
legislation piece will pass out of the General Assembly to provide the
additional funding Indiana counties need to run their 911 dispatching
centers or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).
County officials around the state, including Porter, are contacting
legislators, asking them to modify the way the state collects fees charged
to phone users. PSAPs are facing shortfalls due to the increasing use of
cell phones over traditional landline phones. Surcharges for landlines range
from 39 cents to $3 per month by counties (Porter’s is $1.50 per month).
A handful of bills addressing the funding issue have been drafted in both
the state house and the senate, but it wasn’t until this week that one made
it out of committee hearings and to the full senate. Senate Bill 345,
authored by State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, passed 7-2 out of the
senate’s Tax and Fiscal Policy committee on Tuesday.
SB 345 currently eyes imposing an across-the-board fee of $1 for all phones
and would establish a new state 911 board in charge of distributing funds.
It would also require counties to have only one dispatch center.
Soliday, who has a background in public safety, has crafted a 911 bill of
his own, HB 1263, which he says is still a work in progress. He expects the
bill to receive a committee vote by the end of the week.
Soliday’s bill varies from SB 345 in that it does not propose a blanket fee
across the state. Instead it gives the counties more internal control.
HB 1263, as it exists now, says landlines, wireless and prepaid wireless
fees would be imposed by county ordinance which would establish a monthly
rate not to exceed $2 on all three formats.
As of today, the state 911 board is responsible for cell phone surcharges
and currently sets the rate at 50 cents per month while county governments
decide the amount to set on landlines.
If passed, HB 1263 would take effect next year and would sunset in 2019 due
to likely advances in technology.
Soliday said he is collaborating with fellow lawmakers and hearing testimony
to make HB 1263 as favorable as possible.
“We want a solution and so we are trying to find common ground. But (the
bill is) moving. We’ve put a lot of interest in it,” said Soliday.
But the some counties are opposing the bill saying their 911 centers would
require more money than the $2 monthly fee would raise.
“Not everybody is going to get what they want. It can’t be done. But we’ve
got good bills to work with in the house and the senate,” Soliday said.
Looks For Local Solution
On Tuesday, the Porter County Council expressed its own concerns about the
possible ramifications if the legislature fails to pass a law to increase
Council members said they have spoken with Soliday, State Senator Ed
Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and State Senator Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes,
who understand the urgency and are making efforts to pass legislation.
“We hope the state changes the formula,” said Council President Dan Whitten,
D-at large. “It could or would be an eventual backbreaker for (the county)
if we can’t maintain public safety.”
The 2012 Enhanced 911 budget for Porter County reached about $4 million for
a total figure and has nearly exhausted monies in the county’s reserve funds
specifically for the department.
As a short-term solution, the county placed an additional $4 million in
rainy day funds to carry the system through 2013.
After that, the county’s E-911 would be seeing shortfalls of more than $2
million per year if nothing is changed.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, believes part of the challenge in funding
Porter County E-911 is due to the fact the county commissioners jumped the
gun in consolidating with Valparaiso’s 911 dispatching centers in 2007, a
year before the state legislature passed a law requiring dispatch centers
throughout the county be consolidated into two PSAPs by the end of 2014.
The county took over for all of Valparaiso’s general dispatch
(non-emergency) calls instead of opting to handle just emergency PSAP calls
which were the only type the consolidation bill was requiring counties to
pick up, Biggs said. Since the county absorbed Portage later in 2009, the
county has hired 21 additional dispatchers.
Biggs also stated the commissioners never approached the council at any time
to establish a way to keep the centers from running in the red.
Whitten, who was in office at the time of consolidations, backed Biggs’
claims that the commissioners did not bring up the consolidations to the
council when they signed off on them, but insisted E-911 must be fully
“No one in their right mind is going to turn their back on public safety,”
Biggs said he has been told by the Association of Indiana Counties that even
if the current surcharge fees were to be quadrupled, it still would not be
enough to cover the full expense.
Whitten proposed holding a meeting with all municipalities within the county
to figure out a local solution for covering E-911 costs. Other council
members such as Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, have pitched ideas to involve cities
and towns for additional funding.
Rivas has suggested the county pick up the tab for the employee health
benefits and come up with a formula to have the county and municipalities
fund operations using county income tax dollars.
Whitten contends the forced consolidation was a move by state lawmakers to
place another unfunded mandate on counties.
Council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, said all counties in the state are
facing the same dilemma.