CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said he has decided to pull a bill that proposed lowering 911 fees after some counties expressed concerns that it would hurt emergency operations.
Justice said in a statement on Monday that his intent for the bill was to ensure the state was in compliance with Federal Communication Commission regulations, but that had not been communicated properly so he was pulling it to "shield the counties from any possible harm until all parties have a better understanding."
The bill would have decreased funding to 911 centers by 11 percent.
Justice said being out of compliance with FCC regulations puts future grants from the agency in jeopardy.
The governor says his staff met with Sen. Craig Blair Monday to look at forming an exploratory committee to reach a solution.
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Governor Jim Justice says he is pulling a bill after it was not "properly communicated."
Senate Bill 289, which would modify the wireless enhanced 911 fee to meet regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission, caused some to worry that funding was being taken away from 911 resources. Justice says that was never the case, but the bill is being pulled to further clarify that.
You can read Justice's full statement below.
“After extensive meetings and listening it became very clear that my intent for Senate Bill 289 was not being properly communicated. I have never wanted a dime taken away from our 911 centers or our counties. Much to the contrary, West Virginia was advised that we were out of compliance by the FCC due to diverting funds to non-911 related expenditures and that we were jeopardizing future FCC grants to our state. We have explored protecting all our counties and keeping them 100% whole by funding all these dollars through general revenue."
"Nevertheless, we have met with Sen. Tom Takubo, Dean Meadows, Director of the Wyoming County 911, Kent Carper, Speaker Roger Hanshaw, and President Mitch Carmichael. Additionally, over the weekend I talked with newly appointed Senator Paul Hardesty. This morning at around 9 am my staff met with Senator Craig Blair to look at forming an exploratory committee to ensure we reach the best solution.
"Considering all this input I have decided to pull the bill. This will shield the counties from any possible harm until all parties have a better understanding."
911 centers across the state receive operating funds from two sources, wireless, and landline fees. Not surprisingly, over the years landline fees have diminished considerably because less and less people have landlines.
The deficit from landline fees lost the county over $150,000 last year alone. But Senate Bill 289, introduced Monday, would take another 11% from the budget.
Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard says, "When you start talking 152,000 deficit and another 11% from our wireless fees that's a pretty devastating hit to take."
Woodyard says the bill would cripple Wood Counties 911 Center, restricting its technical capabilities. "Those things are extremely expensive. If you want to stay up-to-date on current technologies you have to pay the price for the different vendors." Woodyard explains.
Local law enforcement is supporting the 911 center in this as well.
"It is the backbone of the law enforcement and first responders throughout [Wood and Wirt] counties and they do a very very good job, so we don't want to lose funding to those individuals." explains Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens.
He is on the executive board for the state Sheriff's Association and says they have reached out to the legislators and the Governor, expressing their displeasure with the bill.
"Our 911 center is second to none. And I want us to keep it that way, not have funds sent to the state where we're not going to see the benefit of it here locally." Sheriff Stephens adds. The proposed bill would divert funding to state police, tower fund and homeland security.
Sheriff Stephens says, "It affects all 55 counties so its not just a Wood County issue, its a state issue."
Woodyard is not happy with how this bill came about. "This bill was introduced without any consultation with 911 directors anywhere, that I know of. I really wish that they would talk to us before they introduce such legislation that would effect us and those we serve."
He sent a letter to Senate President, Mitch Carmichael, expressing his concerns.
"And I really think its time that the legislature and our government leaders sit down and discuss the future of 911 centers, where we are and where we need to be." Woodyard adds.