ATLANTA — Folks who use prepaid cell phone plans might see a state 911 fee go up by 75 cents. The charge is part of a larger legislative plan that some 911 bosses say is very timely.
Right now, buying prepaid wireless phone service means a 75 cent fee every time a user buys more days. Senate Bill 222 would double that to $1.50. Proponents say most prepaid plans are renewed monthly, so those users should pay the same fee that’s collected on post-paid plans and landlines per month.
The proposed increase should raise about $18 million in new money annually for the state’s 911 systems, according to estimates from the companies and organizations that worked on the bill. Statewide, all telephone 911 fees total something like $162 million annually.
Virtually all 911 centers are operating at a deficit and tap county funds to make up the difference, said Debra Nesbit, of Georgia’s counties association. And some centers are not fully staffed.
The bill modernizes 911 operations not just from the financial side but also the practical side, said its sponsor, state Rep. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, at a House panel hearing Monday.
It also creates a Local Government 9-1-1 Authority to administer those fees. It could also do things such as apply for federal grants, help organize training for 911 staff or work on big-picture questions, such as how to speed communications among 911 centers and state law enforcement agencies.
Across the state, 911 services vary. For example, some 911 centers can be contacted by text message. Some can pinpoint cell callers more accurately than others. That matters when a caller can’t talk or doesn’t know where they are.
Fortunately, tragic cases don’t happen often, said Debbie Vance, director of Gordon County’s 911 center.
“But how many lives have to be lost before something gets done?” said Vance, immediate past president of the Georgia chapter of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.
She said a statewide body is a good first step toward helping all parts of Georgia offer uniform 911 services.
The new cash would be a huge boost to 911 budgets, said Greg Whitaker, director of Douglas County’s 911 center.
“But the central standardized clearinghouse, an advocate for 911, that’s what we need in Georgia,” said Whitaker, who’s also president of the Georgia 9-1-1 Directors Association.
The bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting another hearing by a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Civil Committee.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee