In a world full of disagreements, we can all agree that 911 services are vital to our community. Whether it's an elderly person who had a fall, a young child who swallows something harmful, or a driver injured in a car crash, being able to call for immediate assistance is an invaluable community service.
Yet the question of how to pay for this service is a real challenge. As local governments spend more on 911 equipment and personnel, the traditional funding source for 911 is shrinking. Because fewer people use landline phones these days, the fees on landlines that local governments spend on 911 services cannot keep up with 911 expenses. For that reason, efficiency is more imperative than ever to keep costs as low as possible while still offering superb service.
You may have heard by now that Marshall County 911 is going to need to collect more funds to be fully operational, and that's okay. We should all do our part to make sure our community has this vital service.
But what's not okay is the county government deciding behind closed doors to force local power companies and co-ops to add a new charge to every electric bill to collect these 911 fees instead of the county government fulfilling its own responsibility. After making this decision without seeking input from the very entities they want to force to collect the fees, Marshall County government is steamrolling ahead.
West Kentucky RECC and Jackson Purchase Energy strongly oppose any ordinance that mandates we collect 911 fees, because such an action would effectively raise consumer power bills without the transparency and oversight that is required for all rate increases. As member-owned cooperatives, this is completely against everything we stand for. We take seriously our responsibility to act in the best interests of our consumer-members. Sometimes that takes the form of us implementing programs and services. It can also take the form of co-ops pushing back against regulations and laws that are not in the best interests of the people we serve.
Thankfully, there is a legal and responsible alternative that Marshall County Government can use to adequately fund 911. The Kentucky Supreme Court has already ruled that a county government can simply add a 911 charge to the property tax bill that a county clerk already sends each year. This legally-approved method is already working in Shelby County and requires no new process -- the County Clerk simply adds a separate charge to the property tax bill that is already mailed to households. Why put another group, the co-ops, in the mix when your government is already paying for the collection process?
This method is more fiscally responsible and efficient-- if Marshall County simply collects the fee itself, the county would not have to siphon off a portion of the 911 charge to pay for the collection by an outside group, preserving more of the collected funds to be used toward vital 911 services.
Furthermore, it's not just private citizens agreeing that the existing process makes the most sense. During a prior meeting to discuss possible implementation of a 911 charge, then Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars advised it would not be a problem for the Marshall County Sheriff's Office to collect the 911 charges along with the property tax bill.
Imagine if 911 didn't exist in our community. 911 services are vital, and funding for 911 is vital. It's important to Marshall County citizens that our leaders get this right, keeping efficiency top of mind. Here at the co-ops, we join our neighbors in practicing efficiency every day to keep overhead costs as low as possible--we urge our government to do the same when it comes to 911 fees.