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911 surcharge to jump from 25 cents to $1
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911 surcharge to jump from 25 cents to $1

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911 responders

Dispatch services connect people in need of emergency assistance with first responders, requiring separate communication systems.

ELKO – “Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”

Now that Elko County has the Next Generation 911, more money is needed to update the system, so phone surcharges will be going up from 25 cents to $1 a month.

Elko County Commissioners approved the increase in the surcharge to the $1 legislative limit to pay for the upgrade to the computer-aided dispatch system, called CAD, that Elko Police Chief Ty Trouten said is on its last legs.

Trouten, who is vice chairman of the Elko County Enhanced 911 Board, said the 18-year-old CAD system reached the end of its life in December 2019, but Microsoft provided a patch to keep the system working until December 2022. After that the system that uses Windows 7 will be obsolete.

“Right now, we are asking for the full bar — 75 cents — to accrue funds and upgrade the CAD system,” he told commissioners.

The 25-cent surcharge to land line and cellphone bills that helped make Next Generation 911 possible will go up to $1 once all the carriers and providers have been notified.

Chairman Jon Karr said that means $1 per phone, or $12 more a year, even with family accounts for cellphones, including cellphones for the children.

The estimated cost of the CAD upgrade is between $210,000 and $262,500, plus a yearly cost of $42,000 to $52,000. The estimated cost for a CAD-to-CAD project, as well, would cost roughly $157,500 to $210,000 and upkeep would be $31,000 to $42,000 a year. The total would be roughly $440,500 for the two projects, according to Trouten.

Currently, there is no backup should either the Elko or West Wendover dispatch center go down, he said, but CAD to CAD would provide the backup.

Next Generation 911 is for callers seeking help through the 911 dispatchers, while the CAD system is for communication from CAD to responders.

Lowering surcharge

Trouten also said the surcharge could be lowered once the improvements to the CAD system are completed to reflect only the costs needed to keep the Next Generation 911 system operating. The 911 advisory board will come back in a year with a report on how much the surcharge would need to be going forward.

Without the boost in the surcharge, all the entities that use dispatching services would have to increase the fees they now pay, per radio, to update CAD, said Lee Cabaniss, chairman of the 911 advisory board and director of the Elko County Ambulance Service.

He said the agency fees are to sustain the dispatch service, “not for upgrades.” The surcharge would be for the technology updates.

Elko City Manager Curtis Calder, who is executive chairman of the Central Dispatch Authority, told county commissioners March 3 that the board would not let the CAD system fail, so the fees per radio would go up $300 and agencies would see a “pretty big hit to their budgets.”

He said March 4 that the current rate is $8,959 per radio, and there are 187.5 radios tied to the dispatch system.

West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona asked in a Feb. 18 letter to the county that the surcharge be phased in, rather than immediately jump 75 cents.

He wrote that his city supports the increase but asked that “consideration be given to a phasing of the increase in order to avoid any undue hardship for lower income individuals and those who live on fixed incomes but just as importantly rely on this service.”

Trouten said, however, that raising the fee in increments “could have serious consequences. We can’t have CAD go dark.”

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911 funds now

As of Jan. 28, Elko County had collected $530,962 in surcharges at the 25-cent rate that began in late 2017. The county also received a federal grant of $313,500 and early donations totaling nearly $206,233 to kick off the improvements to the 911 system that used 1960s technology for $1.05 million total, according to a report to the 911 advisory board in February.

Budget projections with the 25-cent surcharge would mean that by 2025, the county could not even pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the NextGen system, let alone upgrade CAD, according to Trouten.

The 911 advisory board gave presentations to cities and the Spring Creek Association in recent months on the need for the CAD upgrades. The communities sent letters of support.

Along with reaching responders, the CAD system also logs in who is calling. A 911 caller can currently send a photo to dispatch but there is “no way to push it out to responders,” Trouten , he said.

The motion county commissioners approved includes the provision that Elko County Assistant County Manager and Chief Financial Officer Cash Minor check into whether a business impact statement is needed before the county can raise the surcharge.

“I don’t recall doing one the first time around,” Minor said, referring to the start of the 25-cent surcharge.

If a business impact statement is required, that could delay the surcharge increase by a month or so, Trouten said.

He also reminded commissioners that the five-year plan had included a proposal of $400,820 to $495,840 for a separate county department for 911, but the advisory board and county agreed not to spend money on a new department, so that is a savings.

Too many boards?

Karr said he is all for the increased surcharge but had concerns about three different boards involved in dispatch. He wants the county “to rethink how we’re doing dispatch. Something needs to change.”

The three boards include the county’s 911 advisory board that the state required with the first surcharge, the executive board that oversees finances, and the operating board that Trouten described in a phone interview is at the “functional level of dispatch.”

Calder told commissioners that “it was probably time to relook” at the three-board setup, and the executive board has had talks on the question.

The Elko and West Wendover dispatch centers were converted to the NextGen 911 with the help of a federal grant, and a separate grant was approved for the dispatch center at Owyhee because that center is part of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

Trouten said the Winbourne consulting firm that oversaw the Elko and West Wendover updates is currently working with Owyhee, and then Winbourne’s work will be done.

Under the five-year plan for Next Generation 911, one of the recommendations was for the county to encourage the state to fund a statewide 911 coordinator to open the door to grant money Nevada currently does not receive for 911 systems, but there is a chance in the current Nevada Legislature.

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, told Trouten a bill to fund the coordinator position is in Ways and Means and could be funded with federal COVID-19 money. Nevada is one of only two states without a statewide 911 coordinator.

Other efforts that included an added surcharge for hotel rooms and tacking the surcharge onto prepaid cellphones to boost surcharge revenue require legislative action, and those efforts failed to make it for the current legislative session, Trouten said.

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