FREEHOLD, NJ – An increase proposed in fees for 9-1-1 programming is getting backlash after an analysis shows that the funds are not being utilized as intended. According to a news release on Monday, Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone, Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian G. Burry and Sheriff Shaun Golden are calling on State officials to find out why Monmouth County has not received funds collected through the 9-1-1 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund since 2010.
A press conference held on Monday illustrated great concern by local and county officials. Freeholder Director Arnone, Deputy Director Burry and Sheriff Golden did not mince words on the lack of equity and response to the need to upgrade 9-1-1 systems.
The fees, which are estimated to generate $134 million statewide in 2018, are allocated to a trust fund to upgrade state, county and local 9-1-1 systems. The fees are also to be used to upgrade the infrastructure of 9-1-1 centers, also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), to be able to receive text messages, photos and videos during emergency situations. However, what was advertised by the state versus what they did with the money appear altogether different.
An NJ Advance Media analysis found that of the $1.37 billion the state has collected in 911 fees since 2004, only 15 percent, about $211 million, has been used to help pay for the 911 system. Financing for the upgrade, known as NextGen 911, have reduced considerably. The analysis showed that From 2005 to 2008, the state spent about $42 million on it. Since then, it has spent $71,652. In 2014, the most recent year available, it put just $9,141 of the $121 million it collected toward the upgrade.
Monmouth County residents having been paying into the trust fund since its inception in 2005 through a 90 cent 9-1-1 system and emergency response fee imposed on monthly landline and cell phone bills. However, Monmouth County has not received any funding back from the State since 2010 and has only received $1.14 million for 9-1-1 services since the trust fund was established.
“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,” Director Arnone said. “We estimate our residents contribute more than $5 million annually to the trust fund, yet we have not received any payments since 2010.”
New Jersey lawmakers are currently considering legislation (A-3742) that proposes increasing the monthly surcharge by 10 percent, to 99 cents, for each line. The bill states the increase in funds is to be used to equip PSAPs with Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) systems, which would allow public safety telecommunicators to receive digital information in the form of emergency text messages, photos and videos. While the technology is available in MonmouthCounty, monies from the fund would assist with needed upgrades, plans, coordination and training.
“We oppose any legislation that would call for the increase of 9-1-1 fees as the County has yet to rightfully receive any funding collected through the trust fund since 2010. 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,” Deputy Director Burry said.
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 9-1-1 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,” Sheriff 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 Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center is staffed with 114 public safety telecommunicators who answer 9-1-1 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.