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Do not support 9-1-1 levy without answers

By Lynne Bayley • Oct 2, 2019 at 5:00 PM

In preparation for the November ballot, I am asking voters to reject the 9-1-1 levy being proposed until such time the county proves it has done due diligence in analyzing options for upgrading 9-1-1 capabilities, as well as alternatives for funding.

The levy, recently referred to as an "emergency levy," is the county's solution to fund equipment upgrades that currently reside at multiple primary Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) at the cost of property owners with property valued at $100,000 or more. These PSAPs refer to locations across the county that receive calls directly and then dispatch accordingly. Upgrading PSAP facilities and/or equipment to take advantage of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) features would enhance the public's access to 9-1-1 dispatching by allowing for direct call routing, video, chat, text, etc. Today's capabilities are pretty much limited to wired calls, wireless calls, and/or voice over internet protocol (VoIP). My question is what has been done to centralize operations, i.e. partnering with agencies within the County or with other adjoining counties, or leveraging other existing infrastructure such is the case with Morgan County, who in 2014, partnered with the State of Ohio. Its 9-1-1 system now resides within a secure cloud architecture utilizing the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), and is housed in the State of Ohio Computer Center (SOCC).

While the existing 9-1-1 system is antiquated, it is still operable, and per the article in the Sept. 21 edition of the Reflector, "no deaths have resulted." The article further states that funding is through Ohio's wireless cell phone tax at the rate of 25 cents per device, which applies to each device on a subscriber's cell phone plan. What is not mentioned is that Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC) such as AT&T, Frontier Communications, Century Link, Windstream, etc., who typically provide "wired" services throughout Ohio, also charge wired subscribers tariffs for routing "wireless" 9-1-1 calls to each PSAP. Competitors are often able to offer subscribers bundled services to include internet at cheaper rates due to the fact that they are not public utility companies with 9-1-1 tariffs. This translates to many wired subscribers kicking ILECs to the curb and going completely wireless while still enjoying the benefits of 9-1-1 at no additional cost.

Believe it or not, Huron County has for years had the ability to establish a funding mechanism imposed for purposes of 9-1-1 provided it is in accordance with a legal authority. Some Ohio counties put into a place a .25 percent sales tax, renewing every 5 years, citing statutory authority as 5739.26(A)6. In 1988, Miami County began setting aside .23 percent of a 1 percent sales tax for 9-1-1 operations. Not surprisingly, the same edition of the Reflector featuring the most recent 9-1-1 article citing funding shortfalls, also featured an article, "Tkach: Spending money in Huron Co. 'makes a big difference,'" whereby auditor, Roland Tkach, expressed how great the county was doing with respect to revenue generated from liquor sales, car sales, and sales in mom and pop stores, putting the county ahead of original forecasts. It seems to me that with our prize-winning sales volume, setting aside a portion of sales tax generated in Huron County for 9-1-1 would do a better job of equally distributing the cost of an upgrade than the proposed levy. Erie County took a creative approach in resolving its 9-1-1 funding issues; in 1999, they put into place a "per capita" fee. As a last resort, but a resort more appropriate than the proposed levy, some counties have added an additional fee for wireless users, which in the grand scheme of things makes sense. After all, we are talking about making 9-1-1 more accessible access via mobile devices, right? Why then not ask those who use Voice over IP (VoIP) or other mobile devices provided as part of bundled services to share more equitably in the cost?

The bottom line is that there are alternatives for funding, as well as alternatives for upgrading access to 9-1-1. I researched Ohio's annual statewide 9-1-1 report for years 2015 to 2018, whereby each county submitted information to include the number of PSAPs, total number of wired, wireless and VoIP calls, local funding mechanisms and each county's plan for upgrading to NG 9-1-1. Each year, Huron County indicated it had 4 separate primary PSAPs with no local 9-1-1 funding mechanism or a plan for implementing NG 9-1-1, even though the necessary upgrades throughout Ohio were communicated as early as 2012 and standards released in 2016 (visit http://codes.ohio.gov/oac/5507-1 to review Ohio's PSAP requirements). As of 2018, all counties are required to be in full compliance with Phase I of the PSAP Operations Rules set forth in OAC 5507-1. To facilitate implementation, the Ohio 9-1-1 program office indicated that Ohio plans to use grant funds as sub-grants to the counties but that all local subgrant applications must be coordinated with the county 9-1-1 coordinators. Where Huron County is in that process is unclear.

It is now 2019 and we are still without a plan and are facing Phase II compliance requirements. Should the levy pass, what exactly are we buying for the county and is there a 5-year plan that "weans" the county off of the purse strings of property owners? These mandatory upgrades have been staring county officials in the face for a very long time and the fact that nothing has been done to prepare for it denotes complete failure and lack of accountability on the part of our local politicians.

Vote "no" and force our elected officials to act responsibly and be held accountable by the state.

Lynne Bayley is a Monroeville resident.

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