Dramatic increases in the use of cellular telephones is forcing Upson County Commissioners to consider spending more than $250,000 to upgrade the county's emergency 911 radio dispatch system.
"The system that we have now works fine, and we can keep operating as we do now," said County Manager Mark Bryant. "The problem is that if I call 911 from a cellular telephone ... the dispatchers do not know where I am."
The county's enhanced 911 system does automatically identify the location of people who call from home or business phone lines.
Identifying the location of those who call from cell phones is considered a critical component of the emergency service.
"We're going to have to do this at some point soon," the county manager said. "Wireless communication seems to be the way of the future. We're going to have to do this because so many people are using cellular telephones."
Bryant said he has looked at various communications providers and told commissioners the best deal so far comes from Motorola, the company which installed the present system, housed at the Upson County Jail on Aviation Drive.
"The price of the equipment that we need is $400,000," the county manager said. "The people at Motorola have indicated they will give us a $100,000 rebate if we order by June 15 so there is a little time to consider this. We have about $50,000 in the wireless account, so the total cost to the county will be about $250,000."
The wireless account the county manager referred to is money generated from a $1 monthly surcharged charged to those using cellular phones. Commissioners agreed that if the emergency communications system is not improved, the $1 surcharge will have to be eliminated.
"I have several ideas about how we can pay for this," Bryant said. "I've looked into a lease-purchase option, but it looks to me like we can get a better rate by going through the Office Building Authority," he said.
The Thomaston-Upson Office Building Authority is a local entity through which governments borrow money. For example, the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Authority used the Office Building Authority to borrow the money to construct the new speculative building.
Bryant said the money may be repaid from the county's general fund. One option, Bryant said, "would be to include retirement of the debt on the September SPLOST (Special project Local Option Sales Tax).
"We believe this would be a popular SPLOST item," he said.
The county's 911 system operates on a budget of almost $300,000 per year and is funded primarily through a $1.50 monthly charge added to home land-line telephone bills. Money collected from cellular users, he said, can only be used at this point to enhance the system.
"911 is almost self-supporting," Bryant said. "They were self-supporting until about two years ago when they had to ask for $50,000 from the General Fund. Last year," he said, "they only asked for $35,000 so they are almost self supporting."
Bryant said the bulk of the cost of operating 911 is salaries. "They're not the highest paid people in the county, but you have to remember there are eight full-time employees and it's a 24/7 operation."
Bryant also suggested a cooperative agreement could be reached with Pike County, for example, through which respective governments could split the costs and operate a 911 center serving both counties.
"That's just an idea at this point," the county manager said.