Changes are coming in how emergency calls are received in Eastern Oklahoma County. Behind the scenes, police, fire and other leaders have been diligently working against a deadline when it comes 911 service and radio systems. Some discussion happened this week during a meeting of the ACOG 911 board which receives 911 tax money, but the result didn’t move EOC further along in the process.
Have you looked at your phone bill lately? You pay taxes in the amount of .75 for each line and .35 for your landline to fund 911. Have you called 911 lately? Granted, living in a rural area we expect some slow response times, and sometimes it’s because radio communication and dispatching. Notably, three years ago when Michael Vance murdered two Luther residents, law enforcement pointed to the chaos Vance’s rampage across jurisdictions and poor radio communication. Family members of victims Ron and Kay Wilkson said they called 911 numerous times for a welfare check on them and hours passed before their bodies were discovered. Last summer, a medical helicopter was called after a grisly motorcycle accident, but it never came. The ambulance eventually got there and the victim is healing after having her leg amputated.
Although dispatch services for Eastern Oklahoma County are currently provided by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office, that could change at the of the fiscal year in June 2020 as the sheriff’s office is calling for more funding from communities that include Luther, Jones, Nicoma Park, Harrah, Choctaw, Spencer, Forest Park, Arcadia and Newalla. It is unclear what additional funding is needed to operate the dispatch, called a PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), for Oklahoma County beyond the funding received from tax dollars.
In a letter from Oklahoma County Sheriff PD Taylor to to Eastern Oklahoma County Police and Fire Chiefs, dated in October, Taylor writes “It has never been my intention to cease dispatching for your agency. Our Communications Division was fully funded for the present fiscal year and we hope that next fiscal year will yield the same funding. However, in the event that the County Budget Board decides not to fully fund dispatch, then it will become necessary to request financial participation from you in whatever way that you can reasonably afford. The idea that we will cease dispatching if an agency refuses to pay a fee, is incorrect and should have never been an issue.”
It’s hard to find how much funding is needed to run the Oklahoma County PSAP when combing through the Oklahoma County Budget. There’s no PSAP or 911 budget line in the county budget, but the Oklahoma 911 Management Authority, in its last posted meeting agenda, listed Oklahoma County’s PSAP July and August tax revenue at about $35,000 per month.
Here’s a partial picture tracing the 911 tax money from our phone bills, according to documents. The phone companies collect our 75 cent tax on mobile phone bills, per line, and send it to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. OTC keeps some of it for a fee for collecting the tax. Some more of the tax goes to the State 911 Office, and .68 goes through ACOG 911 to its central Oklahoma members, then it trickles down to the 21 dispatches of 911 ACOG that includes OCSO and other PSAPs for actual emergency communication.
ACOG 911 listed $5.4 million in 911 service fees for last fiscal year, but sent only $1.3 million in “payments to 911 ACOG member entities PSAPS.” In addition, ACOG 911, the association created to develop and improve 911 emergency communication procedures and facilities has a Rainy Day Fund of $19 million.
ACOG 911 staff say they’re saving the $19 million for an eventual transition to “Nextgen 911,” a successor to the outdated E911 service. For some background on NEXTGEN, read this 2018 article. Aside from consultants being paid to study the issue ($127,000), ACOG 911 reports they do not know the cost of the upgrades or a timeframe whether this year, next year or in five years.
Meanwhile, a deadline looms for Eastern Oklahoma County and its need for a new PSAP. Leaders in EOC asked ACOG 911 for help, considering the $19 million reserve. The issue made it to the December 12 ACOG 911 meeting. The following is from the agenda packet:
Mayor Jenni White of Luther made a request of 9-1-1 ACOG to provide funding to the nine cities of EOCCA (Eastern Oklahoma County Chief’s Association). Per Oklahoma 9-1-1 Management Authority Legal Counsel, in order for EOCCA to receive the funds requested, they would need to become an “authorized governing body” to legal permit 9-1-1 ACOG to distribute funds.
It is understood that one of the options EOCCA is considering is to contract services with the Citizen Pottawatomi Nation (CPN). CPN is not an Oklahoma 9-1-1 Management Authority “authorized governing body.” CPN provides Call Taking & Dispatch Services to Pottawatomie County. The governing body is the County, and not CPN. EOCCA may consider working with Pottawatomie County to expand their coverage area to include the nine cities.
Based upon current Agreements, 9-1-1 ACOG provides 9-1-1 Call Taking Equipment & System Support, Network Connectivity, GIS Data Support, and Training. 9-1-1 ACOG is not allowed by law to purchase Radio Systems with 9-1-1 funds. However in an effort to effectively address EOCCA’s issues, Staff is recommending the following initiatives:
- Engage the Oklahoma 911 Management Authority to assist EOCCA in finding solutions to overall 9-1-1 Operations and/or Consolidations as statutorily directed by Oklahoma SS Title 63-2864.
- Coordinate directly with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office and Oklahoma County Commissioners to negotiate an extension of hte new offer from OCSO for 9-1-1 Call Taking & Dispatching Services to the nine citiies beyond the current June 30,2020 termination date.
- Support the passage of HB1992 Public Safety Districts and develop a funding plan from this legislation for the EOCCA.
- Consider applying for Homeland Security Grants to purchase radio equipment.
- Consider applying for a REAP grant in October 2020 through ACOG for radio systems.
Staff is recommending the 9-1-1 ACOG Fund Balance remain intact, and we stay on course with the Mission Critical Partners plan to evolve 9-1-1 ACOG into Next Generation 9-1-1 (RFP Release 12/19/2019). Then revisiting the fund balance projections and reserve once all costs are known for both NG9-1-1 implementation and long-term operational needs.
When it was time to vote, the ACOG 911 Board, with members from Edmond, Moore, Norman, Yukon, Warr Acres, Bethany, Guthrie and others, including Jones, sided with the staff to send EOC asking for grants or pushing legislation for funding, per the staff recommendation. The no votes were from Harrah, Luther, Nicoma Park, Choctaw, Canadian County, Cleveland County and Logan County. ACOG 911 uses a “weighted” voting system meaning members with less than 75,000 population (all EOC entities except Choctaw) only get one vote each, while Norman, Edmond or Moore get more.
Before the meeting, ACOG 911 held a celebration for itself marking 30 years of 911 service. They had cake and balloons and a resolution for creating a “seamless emergency Enhanced 9-1-1 communication services for Central Oklahoma.” ACOG 911 was formed back then to “create an association to enable agencies to more efficiently use their powers by cooperating with each other on a basis of mutual advantage and thereby provide such emergency communication procedures and facilities for all residents of the cities, towns and counties located in the ACOG central Oklahoma area.
Even though the PSAP for Eastern Oklahoma County issue is unresolved, Luther’s grant application was approved for a technology upgrade. It was announced during a different part of the meeting that Luther was among recipients of a Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) grant for $32,000 to purchase police radios. Mayor White and Town Manager Scherrie Pidcock, along with help from LPD Chief Johnny Leafty, applied for the REAP grant. White said the next task is to search for funding for new radios for the volunteer fire department.