SENIOR Staff Writer
DURANT - The county is ringing in $7,000 per month from a 911 cell phone fee that will be used to lease equipment to track emergency calls placed from cellular telephones.
Bryan County voters narrowly approved a 50-cent cell phone fee in December to dial up funding for the program.
Presently, when a 911 call comes in on a cell phone, the location of the call is not revealed and the dispatcher has to rely on information given by the caller who may be lost or disabled.
The Southern Oklahoma Development Association (SODA) began collecting the money in February.
SODA Executive Director Wes Bowman said $50,780.20 has been collected so far. Letters were sent to 13 wireless companies licensed to operate in Bryan County, and of these, six have responded meaning they presently have customers in the county.
“It looks like we are going to be collecting about $7,000 per month,” Bowman said. “For August, we are right at $7,000, and I think that's about what it will be per month.”
According to Bowman, two cell phone companies account for 80-90 percent of the collections. By state statute, SODA collects the money which later will be put in a special account for the program.
The Bryan County Communications Center is housed and operated in the Durant Police Department. The entity has contracts with all county towns to provide 911 service and police and emergency dispatching. A county 911 board oversees operations.
Durant Police Chief Gary Rudick said the equipment that is needed is leased from the telephone company with an initial downpayment and then a monthly lease agreement.
The more that is paid up front, the less the monthly fee. According to non-binding figures provided to the county by AT&T, if a one-time payment of $111,499.36 is made, then monthly payments will be $428.16. For a one-time payment of $89,132.14, monthly payments are set at $992.85.
A third option would require a payment of $66,764.89 and $1,690.68 monthly payments.
The 911 board will have to make a decision on what plan to accept.
“Before we can get to that point, we have to accumulate enough money to make a decision,” Rudick said.
Oklahoma is lagging behind in the ability of emergency dispatchers to trace 911 calls made with cell phones but work is continuing to update the Bryan County Communications Center.
The Associated Press recently cited a federal report released earlier this summer that shows Oklahoma ranks 49th among the states in the availability of enhanced 911 service that can pinpoint a cell phone caller's location.
“We need it because cell phones are accounting for a large majority of calls that come into the communications center,” said Joe Barrett, 911 co-chair.
It had been hoped that the fee would raise at least as much revenue as the 911 fee for landlines that brings in about $5,000 per month, a figure that is decreasing because many people now only have cell phones, according to Barrett.
“It looks like we have surpassed that, and that's good news because we will be able to do this faster than we anticipated,” Barrett said.
Rudick estimated it will be at least a year before the system is operational so the account can accumulate more money for a downpayment.
“My point is we should pay as much down as we can to make the monthly costs as low as possible,” he said.
Once the system is in place, the funds can then go toward operating costs. Officials hope to add a third dispatcher.