MEIGS COUNTY — When a person has an emergency a phone call to 9-1-1 is often involved as they seek help for the situation. In fact, approximately 1,000 calls per month are received by Meigs County 911 dispatchers when there is an emergency.
Now, the agency which handles those calls is asking voters to consider approval of a 1-mill levy on the ballot this fall.
Meigs County EMS and 911 Director Robbie Jacks explained that 911 in Meigs County was one of the last in the state to be formed several years ago.
When it was formed there was no funding mechanism put in place, outside of the cell phone fees which are collected by the state for distribution to the counties. From those fees, Meigs County receives approximately $90,000 annually.
The $90,000 has always fallen short of the funding actually needed to operate the county’s 911 system with EMS ultimately making up the difference each year.
“It is a strain on the EMS budget,” said Jacks. “It has been a band-aid for many years, but it (continuing to support 911 with the EMS funds) is not feasible without endangering both systems.”
With new state mandates being placed on the county 911 systems, without the benefit of additional funding, the cost of operating 911 has increased.
The new mandates — for which the county has complied with all but one to date — required an upgrade in technology which cost approximately $213,000, among other things. There will also eventually be a requirement to connect to a state hub with fiber-optic cable, something that will be an additional cost.
The one requirement that the agency has not been able to comply with is to have two dispatchers on shift at all times.
“When you double staff, the cost of salaries and benefits both increase,” said Jacks.
Putting in the required new system drained the 911 budget, said Jacks, but without the new system the county would have lost the state funding.
Through work with legislators and the state steering committee Meigs County was able to get an exemption to keep their funding as long as they met all requirements, except the staffing requirement, as long as required call answering standards were still meet.
The main reason for the second dispatcher is the new requirement that in the case of a medical emergency the dispatcher must stay on the line and provide medical direction to the caller until help arrives on the scene. With this, the dispatcher would not be able to answer a second call should one come in while on the line.
“Our people work hard to provide the needed services to local residents in emergencies. They have met the standards for call answering and the training mandates for the medical direction calls,” said Jacks. He added that to keep costs down much of the training for the dispatchers, including the training for the medical direction on calls, has been taking place in house.
A “bare-bones” budget for 2020, with having two dispatchers on shift, would be $618,000, said Jacks.
While the levy would not generate the entire amount, it would be enough to keep from jeopardizing either the 911 or EMS system or both, said Jacks.
“We are giving the voters the opportunity to say that the 911 system is important to them,” said Jacks of putting the levy before the voters. “Meigs County 911 has never had a funding mechanism and we have put this off as long as we can.”
When looking into state funding options and speaking with officials and legislators, Jacks said he is often asked if there is a levy in place or if one has been presented to voters.
“We have had to get creative and do more with less, but there is no solution to meet the budget needs,” said Jacks.
Jacks said that he, along with the commissioners, have been working with the state, advocating for the needs of the county’s 911 system.
“We are humbly asking voters to see the importance of 911 and support this levy,” concluded Jacks.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.