By Barry Leemann, Chairman, Oswego County Legislature
For some time now, our County E-911 Director, Mike Allen, and the LegislatureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee have been laying the groundwork for replacing the countyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s outdated emergency communications system. There are a number of problems with the present equipment, and a new communications system has been needed for many years.
The Legislature took an important step at the Aug. 13 meeting when we authorized the E-911 Program to proceed with cost estimates for a new system.
Our goal is to build a new system that vastly improves radio coverage throughout the county, around the existing infrastructure. This will entail new radio units for the user agencies, additional tower sites to improve coverage, and making our system compatible with neighboring counties.
We need to purchase new equipment for several reasons. First of all, the present radio system has never provided full coverage to all areas of the county. There are 56 user agencies, including volunteer fire departments, ambulance services, law enforcement and state agencies, which rely on our system. Due to equipment limitations and challenging terrain in some areas, our coverage has always been inadequate.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for Oswego County to acquire parts and maintain the present system. The technology has evolved from analog to digital and the county is mandated to move to another set of radio frequencies.
On the state level, funding of 911 operations has been woefully inadequate.
Currently more than half of the calls received by Oswego County 911 are made on cellular phones. New York State charges mobile phone users a tax of $1.20 per month to help fund 911 centers. However, very little of that money is returned to the local agencies Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in 2008 the state collected $174,870,026 — only $9.8 million was shared with the local 911 centers; Oswego County received $66,470.
Where has the rest of the money gone?
According to news reports, various state agencies have used the 911 surcharge to pay for travel, clothes, over-time, groceries and other supplies.
Most of the counties in New York State have added a local surcharge to the state cell phone tax. In those counties, the money goes directly to fund the local 911 operations. Oswego County has resisted placing this surcharge on our local taxpayers.
As we move forward to make badly needed improvements for our own emergency communications system, it is critical that the state share the money they already collect. The funds should be sent to the local agencies that are actually providing the 911 services.
I want to personally thank the LegislatureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee, led by Paul Santore, District 16, and members Linda Lockwood, vice chairwoman, Mary Flett, Margaret Kastler, Kevin Gardner, Shawn Doyle and Lee Walker Jr., along with Mike Allen, for the many hours of research and deliberation that they have devoted to this issue. It is imperative that our emergency responders have the equipment they need to do their jobs.