Bricken eyes savings for county through 911 department

State Representative Rush Bricken (R-District #47, Coffee and Warren Counties) is sponsoring a bill (HB 2520) he believes will save taxpayers in Coffee County and many other counties in the State hundreds of thousands of dollars. He says his legislation will ensure the 911 districts throughout the state are operating and funded in a consistent manner.

The legislation focuses on two primary 911 areas. First, it will require all 911 district call centers to provide direct dispatch to law enforcement and emergency response units such as fire and ambulance services. Second, it would require 911 districts to directly employ their staff. The proposed legislation stipulates the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (TECB) develop these uniform guidelines for all the state’s 911 districts by June 30, 2021 and then provides 5 years (June 30, 2026) to comply with the guidelines.

Tennessee has one hundred 911 Districts, generally one per county except some urban counties which may have more than one district. There are twenty 911 districts that do not currently direct dispatch all their emergency calls. Citizens in these counties face increased risks of their calls being lost or delayed. This could cause terrible results. Coffee County’s 911 district and most 911 districts in southern middle Tennessee provides direct dispatch.

“The inconsistent funding of 911 district staff is a little more complicated issue but must be addressed because this is where taxpayer’s savings can be found,” Bricken says. “Currently about half of Tennessee’s 911 districts directly employ their staff, such as director, and dispatchers. The other half of the state’s 911 districts is staffed by county or municipal paid employees. These 911 districts that use county/municipal employees have no payroll costs. These 911 districts still receive all the 911 fees charged to every citizen and business for their land lines and cell phones. Currently, every Tennessean is paying $1.17 per month for each phone number they have, land line or cell phone. Recent legislation increased this charge to $1.50 per month, a 28% increase effective January 1, 2021. This increase was justified primarily to improve funding for the 911 districts that paid their own payroll costs. The 911 districts not carrying their own payroll costs have a high funding advantage and often have built up large treasury reserves. The citizens (property taxpayers) with this type 911 district are being financially penalized.”

In this area, four counties, Coffee, Warren, Bedford and Franklin, are similar in size and 911 operations. All four of the counties do direct dispatching. However, Coffee and Franklin counties’ 911 district employees are paid directly by the county. Warren and Bedford counties’ employees are district employees, paid by the district.

As the below table shows, the two counties (Coffee & Franklin) that do not carry their own payroll cost have accumulated healthy financial reserves. These counties are currently generating positive operating results. Their reserves will further increase when the new 911 rates begin January, 2021. Coffee County 911 district’s reserves are $3.6 million compared to Warren County’s 911 district reserves of $1.6 million. Coffee County 911 district has a new facility with modern equipment.

Representative Bricken said knows it will be a challenge to get his legislation passed this year, especially with the unusual environment we are in. However, even without this legislation each county can renegotiate their agreement with their 911 districts to achieve these same positive results. He is encouraging every county mayor and county commission to review their 911 districts operations and be certain they carry their own payroll costs.