Are You A 9-1-1 Freeloader?

Are You A 9-1-1 Freeloader?
By: Mike Shain

ADVANCE, Mo. - Missouri legislators are sounding out county officials about a possible fee on cell phone users. 
The revenue would help several Heartland counties afford Enhanced 9-1-1 (E 9-1-1) emergency phone service.  A study last year suggested a fee of 75 cents per month on each cell phone number in the state, but the legislature took no action and it's not certain that a proposal will be made in 2008.
A committee of the house came to Advance Friday to get opinions from southeast Missouri officials.
Heartland counties lacking the enhanced service are Bollinger, Butler, Carter, Iron, Reynolds, Ripley and Wayne.  Other counties report declining revenue from a fee levied on land line phones.  That fee does not apply to cell phones.
"With more and more cell phones being used, our tax revenues are dropping," said Richard Knaup, head of the 9-1-1 Advisory Committee in Cape Girardeau County.  The decline is not sharp but it is steady.
Some of the rural counties without E 9-1-1 are among the major tourist areas in the state, especially those along the Black, Current, St. Francis and Eleven Point rivers.  Carter County Presiding Commissioner Gene Oakley, a former legislator, says most of the 1.4 million tourists who come to the rivers "are not aware that if they make a 9-1-1 call no one knows where they are."
E 9-1-1 not only goes straight to an emergency center but shows the location of a caller.
A problem facing counties with the enhanced system is aging equipment and the high cost of replacing and updating.  That and declining revenues from the fee on land lines could portend trouble on the line.
Representative Mark Bruns of Jefferson City chairs the committee on the 9-1-1 issue.  Bruns says a monthly fee of 75-cents on cell phone lines would be enough to get systems for every county that doesn't have one as well as help those counties facing the cost of equipment updates.