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County commissioners address worries about 911 cuts to state legislature

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Potential cuts in state funding for capital area 911 systems continue to cause concern for local officials. The latest comes in the form of a letter from the city of Lakeway’s chief of police, Todd Radford, to Travis Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber.


The issue also made its second appearance before the Travis County Commissioners Court. There, Huber and her colleagues approved a letter expressing their own concerns about the possible loss of 911 funding. It will be sent to members of the state legislature’s Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, as well as the members of Travis County’s delegation.


Huber also used the occasion to again broach the subject of the state’s 911 fund. Though it is drawn from fees tacked on to landline and cell phone bills, the fund’s purse strings are held by the state legislature, which appears set on not releasing the money. Huber sees this as “smoke and mirrors.”


“This is really not a cut in funds,” she said. “These are the funds that the state collects on behalf of 911 and … these are dedicated funds to 911 and they are choosing not to dispense these funds – or at least that’s the plan at the moment – in order to work on the balancing of the budget.”


After the hearing, Huber told In Fact Daily that she and the other members of the Council of Governments’ executive committee were told that the legislature was using the fund to help make it appear as though the state’s budget is balanced. “I’m not sure I understand how they play with those numbers,” she said. “But if the money is shown in an account, my assumption would be that it’s an asset.”


Lakeway is one of three Travis County 911 call centers that seems likely to close thanks to that projected cut in the Capital Area Council of Governments’ fiscal allotment for 911 services. The others are units that serve Lago Vista and Westlake Hills (see In Fact Daily, March 2).


In his letter to Huber, Radford cites a list of nine negative consequences that closing the Lakeway 911 center could cause These include increased response time, the loss of the department’s ability to “look up the location of a 911 caller who hangs up,” and the inability to monitor fire and EMS calls.


“In this instance, there might be a belief that these (centers) are tertiary and therefore not essential to the public’s safety,” writes Radford. “I would argue the services (they) provide for their communities and the region are essential … This action will set us back and will affect our community’s safety!”


In their letter to the state legislature, Travis commissioners broaden the issue to include the 911 fund. “The 9-1-1 system is the backbone of emergency communications throughout Texas, and is funded by a tax on landline and cell phone bills that ALL Texans pay,” it reads. “That tax provides more than adequate funding for a state-of-the-art system, but the Legislature has continued over the years to divert 9-1-1 revenues,” instead of spending the money on local emergency system needs.

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