ELKO – Elko County has a chance to obtain a $313,500 grant to help pay for upgrading the basic 911 system to the Next Generation level for emergency dispatching.
Elko County Emergency Manager Annette Kerr told Elko County Commissioners she will apply for the money through the Nevada Homeland Security Grant Program, and the county wouldn’t be required to come up with matching funds.
“It’s a long shot, but we will be doing everything we can to get it,” said Kerr at the same meeting where commissioners approved giving her the title of emergency manager to reflect current duties, after years as support services office manager for the Elko County Sheriff’s Department.
“I think it’s a no brainer” to try for the grant, Elko County Commissioner Cliff Eklund said at the April 4 commissioners meeting.
Elko Police Chief Ben Reed, who chairs the Elko County Enhanced 911 Board, said there isn’t much risk in applying for the funds, and “if we get one dollar, it will be one dollar more than we had.”
Elko County is collecting a 25-cent surcharge on landline telephones and on cellphones to help pay for the update to Next Generation 911, but the money has been slow coming into the county coffers, which already have more than $200,000 in donations for 911 improvements.
The county has collected $59,213 so far in surcharges for 911 updates, said Cash Minor, assistant county manager.
Minor also said AT&T has been collecting money since the first of the year through two companies, Singular and Cricket. Commissioners expressed concern last month that AT&T hadn’t started sending monthly payments to the county.
“Is everybody paying now?” asked Commissioner Rex Steninger.
Minor said all but Beehive Broadband in the West Wendover area is now paying the surcharge, and he would check into what’s happening. The chart of surcharge collections shows 38 companies now paying, a couple of them as low as 75 cents per month. The companies charge customers the 25-cent surcharge and pass it on to the county.
The $313,500 grant the county will seek from Homeland Security matches the amount Winbourne Consulting LLC estimated for equipment for Elko and West Wendover dispatch centers. Owyhee’s dispatch center would need $118,500 for software and hardware.
Kerr said she has talked with Owyhee about applying for a separate but co-joined grant because the 911 dispatch center is on a sovereign nation. The center is on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.
Winbourne estimated standard pricing for the equipment for the Elko, West Wendover and Owyhee dispatch centers would be $432,000, with an annual recurring cost of $151,474. The other option, where the county wouldn’t own the equipment, was $192,000 for a service provider and recurring costs of $199,474.
Elko County Manager Rob Stokes said on April 5 he gave Kerr the go-ahead to file the grant application for the Elko and West Wendover dispatch centers, and commissioners can formally act on the grant at a later meeting. Kerr’s request was supposed to be an action item, but a glitch didn’t include action on the agenda.
“We’re optimistic,” Stokes said of the grant effort.
Kerr said in a phone interview she plans to file the grant application by the April 11 deadline and go to Carson City on April 23 to defend the grant application.
“It’s a competitive project,” she said.
Her application will stress two key points, operational communications, because the county needs the ability to respond to emergencies, and public information and warning so under Next Generation 911 the county will have the ability to inform people of emergencies.
The five points Homeland Security is looking at for the grant are intelligence and information sharing, cyber security, operational coordination, public information and warning, and operational communications. Kerr said the only one of the five Elko County isn’t under for the grant is cyber security.
Kerr said the idea of the grant application came out of talks with Sheriff Jim Pitts because of the need to find funding for upgrading 911. Pitts was on the Nevada Homeland Security working group, but the board has recently been downsized from 35 to 17 so whether he is on the new board is yet to be decided.
“I applauded their initiative,” Reed said in a telephone interview April 5. “Typically, Homeland Security funding ends up to the south in the state (Clark County).”
The federal government hasn’t allotted funds yet to the state, but the grant application will be there when the funds are available, and the state could award all or part of the $313,500 request, Kerr said.
Reed told county commissioners he had met with state Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, about drafting a bill for the next legislative session that would call for a state 911 coordinator, and he said it wasn’t too late to maybe look at the questions of how to collect the 911 surcharge from prepaid and internet phones to include in the bill.
The county also is clear to seek 911 funding because the county and cities haven’t used surcharge money for body cameras, skirting an issue that came up during legislative hearings. The 2017 Legislature approved allowing up to a $1 surcharge that could be used for body cameras as well as 911.
The National Emergency Number Association’s chief executive officer, Brian Fontes, said at the time of the 2017 legislative hearings that the proposed Senate bill could preclude Nevada from obtaining funds to modernize 911, citing federal law that no portion of 911 charges by a governing entity could be used for any other purpose.
Reed said law enforcement in Elko County hasn’t sought a surcharge for body cameras, especially because 911 badly needs an upgrade.