Henry County turns down Washington County offer
The Washington County E911 Board and Communications Commission learned Monday that the county will not share 911 equipment with Henry County. Henry County had been interested in sharing equipment with Washington County, but decided to use Lee County’s equipment instead because it offered a lower price.
Lee County offered to let Henry County route its dispatching calls through Lee County’s equipment for about $6,000 a year. Washington County had quoted Henry County a price about three times that. Washington County was hoping to receive between $15,000 and $19,000 annually from Henry County in exchange for sharing equipment.
The Henry County board of supervisors contacted Washington County Communications Chairman Wes Rich a year ago about its desire to share 911 infrastructure, which would spare Henry County from having to buy new equipment.
At a meeting in February, Rich told the commission that Lee County had new equipment just like Washington County’s and that Henry County could contract with Lee County if Washington County’s bid was too high.
In other matters, Communications Supervisor Cara Sorrells said the prospect of returning the monthly landline surcharge to $1.50 is extremely grim. This means emergency communications will receive tens of thousands of dollars less in revenue next year.
Sorrells is a member of communications task force that was created to study the state’s 911 phone charges. The task force has submitted a rough draft of its recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security, which will then go to the Iowa Legislature, and allowing counties to charge more than $1 on landlines is not one of its recommendations.
Sorrells said she was one of the few voices on the task force who lobbied for the local option to charge more than $1 on landlines. Washington County is one of only two counties in the state to charge landlines more than $1 a month for 911 equipment. The other county is Shelby, which charges $2.50 a month.
The Iowa Legislature passed a bill earlier this year which capped landline surcharges at $1 effective Jan. 1. Sorrells said her department takes in $150,000 from the landline surcharge, so going from $1.50 as it is now to $1 would mean a shortfall of $50,000.
Sorrells said there was little interest on the task force in removing the $1 cap since most counties do not charge more than $1 anyway. She said nearly all counties were more interested in increasing the cell phone surcharge to $1, since that would bring their counties more money, and that they used the $1 landline cap as a bargaining tool with the telephone companies.
Washington County will get more from cell phone lines if the $1 monthly cell phone charge goes through. However, Sorrells estimates it will be about $20,000, so the dispatch center would still be short $30,000 compared to the current surcharge regime.
The telephone companies on the task force lined up in support of the cap, arguing that it was not fair for customers in one county to have to pay more than customers in another county. Sorrells said the telephone companies also didn’t like having to bill counties such as Washington separately.
Another issue the communications commission tackled was what to do about replacing a receiver at the dispatch center for $2,400. The receiver receives panic alarms from about 60 buildings in town including schools, banks and private residences. The dispatch center is providing that service to those entities for free.
Commissioner Adam Mangold said he was worried about the dispatch center competing with private businesses over the provision of alarm services. Commissioner Ryan Miller said the dispatch center should not replace the receiver and to get out of the business entirely.
“I’d hate to have the dispatchers respond to a private alarm when they could be doing something else,” he said.
Sorrells said she had drafted a letter to the 60 subscribers informing them of the dispatch center’s dilemma.