New state legislation was passed that will add fees from prepaid cell phones to 911 revenue

In recent years, the City of Prineville has been looking for ways to operate its 911 system in an environment where expenses continue to rise.

Local leaders can now anticipate a boost, thanks to the passage of House Bill 4055, which will provide 911 systems throughout the state with a new funding source.

The bill, which passed with near unanimous approval in both the House and Senate, will add a 75-cent charge on each purchase of prepaid cell phone credits. The fee will take effect in October 2015.

“This is about keeping our neighborhoods safe,” said House Majority Leader Val Hoyle (D-Eugene).”Closing the prepaid cell phone loophole will help our emergency responders continue to do their jobs.”

Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester, who has remained heavily involved in with the recent 911 funding concerns, views the bill as a positive development. To what extent it will help the local 911 center remains uncertain at this point.

“There is a little bit of discussion on how that fee will be administered and managed in terms of whether it is at the point of sale or whether it’s at the companies that perform the service,” he said. “So, there is still some work to be done on the administrative part of it, but nevertheless, we anticipate it being a meaningful increase.”

Presently, the Prineville 911 system is holding its own, Forrester said.

“Our current situation is tight,” he said. “We are doing OK.”

By the same token, they are not completely comfortable with their ability to fund the system long term.

“It’s stressful for all of us, and costs have continued to go up over the years,” Forrester stated. “As we move forward in time, as technology changes and federally-mandated laws with respect to how the interconnectivity between systems locally, regionally, and nationally are implemented, there are obviously some infrastructure costs that go along with that.”

Given the financial situation the local 911 system continues to face, city leaders have considered different cost-saving measures during the past few years. Among these was a plan to share a Condon-based PSAP platform with Sherman, Gilliam, Wheeler, and Jefferson counties.

“We participated in that consolidation process up to a point, and then elected to pull out of that consortium,” Forrester said. “We didn’t see a significant cost savings that overwhelmingly drove us in that direction.”

He added that the only way they could generate any meaningful savings was to close the Prineville 911 center.

“We just weren’t comfortable doing that.”

As they wait for the new funding to kick in next year, the city seems poised to keep the 911 service intact. Not only do preliminary budget estimates suggest the service will stay in adequate financial shape, the city and its partners recently invested in upgrades to the consoles, computers, and servers.”

“We have a pretty robust system as it exists today,” Forrester remarked.

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