Decline in landlines causes problem for 911

Marshall County Sheriff Tom Chamberlin met with the county council Monday morning to discuss the lack of funding for 911 dispatch services in Marshall County. Chamberlin explained that with the rise in popularity of cell phones, many households in the county are discontinuing their landline phone service—resulting in a sharp decline of revenue going to the 911 dispatch center.
Chamberlin noted that landlines are charged a $1.53 every month that goes to the county 911dispatch center. The dispatch service employs 11 dispatchers and one supervisor. Currently, the landline fees are not enough to pay the employees needed for the dispatch center.
"This is going to be a trend," said Chamberlin to the council members Monday.
He continued, pointing out that only 70 percent of households in Marshall County have landlines, a figure that is expected to decrease to 50 percent in the next two years.
Cell phones are charged a fee that goes to the 911 center, but it is only 50 cents each month, or 25 cents for a prepaid phone at time of purchase. Another problem is that cell phone fees are collected by the state and then distributed to each county based on an unknown formula. The individual county cannot control or change the cell phone fees.
Chamberlin reported that the total amount spent on 911 in 2010 was $524, 403, while the county only received fees in the amount of $505, 926—causing a shortfall of $18, 477. He said that the amount that 911 is short each year is steadily rising as landline use falls out of popularity, noting that the last time the center had a positive revenue was in 2007. "As landlines decrease and cell phones increase, our revenue will continue to decrease," said Chamberlin.
Chamberlin also visited Plymouth's city council meeting Monday evening, and Bourbon's town council meeting Tuesday evening to present his findings. In the Bourbon town council meeting, Chamberlin said that he is looking for advice on the problem.
He presented two options, the first being to raise the fee on landlines to the maximum allowed by the state of Indiana, which is 10 percent of the monthly access charge of $26. The fee would then be more than dollar more than it is currently, going from $1.53 to $2.60.
"That's just a short-lived fix," said Chamberlin to the Bourbon town council, continuing by pointing out that this solution still does would not solve the problem of the continuing decrease in landlines.
The second option would be to raise property taxes and use those funds to make up the difference for the 911 center.
Chamberlin also discussed a county-wide dispatch center, which would take away the need for Bremen and Plymouth to have their own 911 dispatch center as they currently do.
"I feel that it is cheaper, much cheaper, to have a centrally located dispatch for Marshall County," said Chamberlin to the Bourbon town council Tuesday. "I feel that it's safer."
Chamberlin will be visiting town and city boards again in July with a formula to assist in finding a solution to the lack of funds for 911 dispatch.