BELTON — Jim Reed, executive director of the Central Texas Council of Governments, on Thursday told the mayors, commissioners and county judges who make up the organization’s executive committee about the ongoing plan to withdraw the council from the state’s 911 funding mechanism.
In December, Reed told the executive committee that it was in the region’s best interests to begin the process of withdrawing from the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communication. He explained that under the current model, the funds generated in the council’s seven-county region via the monthly 50-cent 911 surcharge added to every phone bill in Texas goes to the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communication before being returned to the area.
The state returns between 28 cents and 35 cents to the area. The discrepancy between what is paid in to the state and what is paid out to the council translates to about $3 million a year that is being withheld from the Central Texas area.
If the council were to leave the state system, it would raise the amount of money available for 911 operations from $4 million per year to $7 million, which Reed said would “substantially change the way 911 is delivered in this area.”
Reed told the council there are five other councils of governments interested in withdrawing from the state 911 system — Houston-Galveston Area Council, North Central Texas Council of Governments, East Texas Council of Governments, Deep East Texas Council of Governments and the Alamo Area Council of Governments.
“There are concerns about what happens when too many people pull out of (the commission) on state emergency communications to form their own 911 districts,” Reed said.
The concerns primarily stem from councils that represent less populated areas that don’t generate enough revenue from their 911 surcharge to cover operating expenses. These councils rely on an additional long-distance fee to provide equalization funds.
The councils of governments that don’t want to leave the state system are working to prepare “overarching administrative reforms” to the state system that will determine percentages of equalization funds, Reed said.
Part of the reforms being discussed by council directors across Texas has to do with the limitations the state places on 911 money, he said.
“Districts get one set of rules, COGS get another,” Reed said. The discrepancy between what 911 districts can do with their funds versus what councils of government can do is one of the reasons the Capitol Area Council of Governments left the state 911 system in October.
“The state has a one-size-fits-all mentality and we couldn’t live with that,” said Betty Voights, executive director of the Capitol Area Council of Governments. “We needed the flexibility to adapt.”
Voights explained that if her organization had chosen to remain in the state system, the limitations the state places on how 911 funds can be spent would have prevented the Capitol Area Council of Governments from upgrading its equipment until 2016.
“We’re already doing it now,” Voights said. “It was silly to stay.”