SEARCY, Ark. (KTHV) -- It is a number designed to save lives' but the funding to support it is dwindling fast.
911 dispatch centers depend on fees assessed on 911 calls to fund their operations but White County officials say those fees are not keeping up with the demand.
The White County 911 Center dispatches for their sheriff's department, 5 police departments, 17 fire departments plus first responders. As you can imagine, that is a lot of calls coming in on a daily basis, most of them from cell phones.
While they may be convenient for callers, for dispatch centers, more wireless calls means less funding to keep the lines open.
"It's not just a Searcy or a White County issue. It's a nation-wide issue right now," says Nancy VanWinkle, director of the White County 911 Center. She says they pay the bills from the calls they receive.
"On your cell phone, you pay a certain fee for 911 just like you do on a landline phone. For landline, which is your home phone, we get 5 perecent. For cell phones, we get 83.5 percent but that's based on your population," says VanWinkle.
The cell phone fee funding is decided based on the population of the county, not on how many calls the 911 call center receives. So far this year, the White County Dispatch Center has received 1, 728 calls from landlines. Compare that to the 16,677 calls from cell phones-almost ten times the number from landlines.
"It's getting to the point where we are having to pull more out of county general to fund our dispatch," says VanWinkle.
More money that is putting a strain on the county budget for a service that money can't buy.
"It's not a service that the state or the counties can go without. I mean, 911 is a necessity. It's there to save lives and help people," says VanWinkle.
VanWinkle tells me the fees for cell phone and landline 911 calls are set by the state of Arkansas and it would have to go before legislature to change any of those, something she expects to happen in the very near future.
White County received more than $280,000 from landline fees in 2008. However, this year officials are projecting to receive about $230,000, a loss of at least $50,000.
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