FREEHOLD, NJ — Monmouth County officials estimate that county residents have paid some $5 million in state-imposed 911 emergency service fees on their phone bills for the past 13 years. However, only $1.14 million has made its way back to upgrading the county’s emergency response system — and it’s been eight years since any funds have been received at all.
Now they are asking state officials why Monmouth County is not getting its "fair share" of funds collected through the 911 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center.
Their request comes at a time when state lawmakers are considering raising the monthly surcharge by 10 percent — from 90 cents to 99 cents — for each landline and cell phone line.
“We oppose any legislation that would call for the increase of 911 fees as the county has yet to rightfully receive any funding collected through the trust fund since 2010,” Monmouth Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian Burry said at a June 18 press conference. “Our residents have paid their fair share into the fund and should not be asked to contribute even more without seeing those monies come back to the county.”
According to a report issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), New Jersey is one of two states to have used a portion of their funds to support non-911 related public safety programs. In 2016, $122 million was generated for the trust fund, in which an estimated $108 million was used for other purposes.
“This additional tax will not result in a solution to fixing the problem and it’s unfair for taxpayers to bear the burden of paying it when that money will be used for other purposes,” Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said. “Such an increase is unjust, especially with no explanation from the state as to where the funding went or if it will be replenished.”
The current fees, which are estimated to generate $134 million statewide in 2018, are allocated to a trust fund to upgrade state, county and local 911 systems. The fees are also to be used to upgrade the infrastructure of 911 centers, also known as public safety answering points (PSAPs), to be able to receive text messages, photos and videos during emergency situations.
Under the measure being considered in the state Legislature, additional funds raised by a 10 percent increase in the the monthly 911 surcharge would be used to equip PSAPs with Next Generation 911 (NG911) systems, which would allow public safety telecommunication personnel to receive digital information in the form of emergency text messages, photos and videos. While the technology is available in Monmouth County, monies from the fund would assist with needed upgrades, plans, coordination and training.
“The Monmouth County Sheriff's Office Communications Division has done a remarkable job keeping current with the latest technology in order to keep our residents and visitors safe. However, there is always room for improvement and upgrades to their infrastructure should be funded by the fees collected through the trust fund,” Monmouth Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone said.
The Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center is staffed with 114 public safety telecommunication employees who answer 911 calls for 50 agencies, which includes 47 municipalities, Brookdale Community College, Monmouth University and Naval Weapons Station Earle. It also provides dispatch services for 22 police departments, 69 fire companies and 37 first aid squads. The communications division processes more than 750,000 calls annually.
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