Crook’s 911 tax dollars shrinking

County using its own dollars to cover share of service

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: December 17. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – As more people use cell phones and the Internet for long-distance calls, Crook County will have to dip into its general fund in the next fiscal year to cover the cost of 911 services.

This will be the first time the county, which shares the cost of the 911 service with the city of Prineville and other agencies, will use general fund dollars for this purpose.

Usually, the county’s contribution to 911 is funded by a per-call tax on long-distance calls, Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said. But those revenues are not enough to cover the costs anymore.

“We are one of the last counties that has actually been able to operate the 911 system out of the revenues of the 911 telephone tax,” Cooper said. “Those revenues just are not going to keep pace with cost, and statewide there’s an issue that will have to addressed at some point – how are we going to pay for 911? – because the model that we’re using doesn’t exist anymore.”

The county and city are still hashing out the details of a new 911 agreement for the fiscal year starting in July. Prineville City Manager Robb Corbett said that the city has used general fund money to pay for 911 in the past; this year it has budgeted $196,200 from the general fund to pay for the user fees it contributes to the service. The amount set aside for 911 has remained fairly steady for the last several years.

“We rely on those (phone tax) dollars to help us pay for emergency dispatch, and if that dollar amount is in fact going down, then that’s going to be a problem for us in the long term,” Corbett said.

Cooper said that the county will contribute $200,000 in 911 phone tax dollars and $42,660 from the general fund for the next fiscal year. The phone tax is specifically earmarked for 911 and cannot be used for other purposes, he said.

The Prineville Police Department runs the 911 service for the county and the city. Police Chief Eric Bush said that the 911 center has a budget of $918,500 per year, which comes from grants, state taxes and user fees from the different agencies, including the city police department, Crook County Sheriff’s Office and Crook County Fire and Rescue.

The amount each agency pays in a user fee is determined by the percentage of 911 calls directed to each group. In 2005, Bush said, about 64 percent of calls were for the Prineville Police Department, 26 percent were for the sheriff’s office and 8 percent were for the fire department.

Cooper said that even though using the general fund for 911 could take money from other departments, the service is one of the most important that the county supports.

“The alternative would be to go to the voters and ask for a 911 taxing district, and that doesn’t feel right at all right now,” Cooper said. “I think it’s probably one of the highest and best uses of general fund monies; on the other hand, we need to make sure what we’re buying is exactly what we need and not more capacity than the system actually demands.”

He added that residents can save themselves and the county money by not calling 911 in nonemergency situations.

“A dog at large probably means you should look up the number for the police department and call them and report dog at large, not call 911,” he said. “We’d like to see 911 preserved for life-and-death situations, and to the degree that people do that, they’re actually saving themselves that money in the long run.”

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