Mysterious state action leaves gaping hole in 911 service budgets across Ga.
CONYERS, Ga. -- When you call 911, you expect someone to answer, but now they’re in danger of running out of money.
A 2-year investigation by 11Alive discovered Georgia was breaking its own law by not having a central group to oversee 911. After our story aired, Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order creating a statewide 911 agency.
They met for the first time in October but their first task is a big one – they’re trying to track down missing money from 911 centers across Georgia.
The state’s 911 centers are funded through the $1.50 per month fee on landline and cell phones and a 75 cent one on prepaid phone lines. But for 2017, the money from prepaid phones was significantly less. Now the mystery is why.
“It is an anomaly but it’s a very large one and it is leaving a budget hole for many of the counties,” Debra Nesbit, associate legislative director for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) said.
For a small county like Rockdale, the difference is about $40,000. It doesn’t sound like much out of a $2 million budget but Dan Morgan, Rockdale County’s emergency management director, says they need every penny.
“Goes to directly run the services people expect when they call 911,” he said. “It’s the building, it’s the people, it’s the technology behind it to make sure somebody answers the phone.”
For the last 3 years, the check they get each October has been constant – even growing.
That equates to about $124,000 in 2014, a $1,000 increase in 2015 and 140,000 in 2016. But for 2017, the check will only be $105,000 – a $35,000 difference.
For bigger counties like Cobb, they’re losing almost $300,000. Add all of that up and, statewide, it turns into a big pile of money – and some very surprised counties.
“It’s a significant amount. It’s about $5 million across the state,” Nesbit said. “So, they’ll have to figure out a way to make up that shortfall.”
Funding for 911 centers has been dropping off the past 10 years as people cut the cord to landlines and go 100 percent cell-phone at home. But that doesn’t explain why money for prepaid phones is down.
So, could it be explained by fewer people buying prepaid phones?
“I doubt that’s the case,” Nesbit said. “We know that there are not fewer people using cell phone service or prepaid plans so there has got to be an explanation.”
When we asked, the Department of Revenue replied with a letter admitting that “the recent distribution was approximately 25 percent less” and that it’s the result of a “refund claim” filed with the department of revenue that will “require a reduction in future distributions made for 911 purposes.”
But that’s all they would explain adding that a confidentiality statute keeps them from saying more.
In the long run, Chief Morgan said this could affect your 911 service. But, for now, he said they’ll do whatever it takes to keep those living in or driving through his county safe.
“We will make no changes in service. No one’s going to be laid off. We’re not going to cut off phone lines – nothing like that,” he said. “It will be the same service people are expecting.”
In a letter, the Department of Revenue said they have received and validated the refund claim but don’t know what they did to verify it – or who got it. So, in the end, it’s still a mystery.