Wednesday, March 23, 2011

911 budget reduction good public policy but shady budgeting practice

The Austin Statesman's Suzannah Gonzales has an article ("Small cities oppose cuts to 911 answering services," March 23) on proposals in Central Texas (which are almost certainly being discussed behind the scenes elsewhere in the state as well) to reduce funding for 911 services, putting off infrastructure upgrades and diverting calls from smaller agencies, some of which take as few as two 911 calls per day, to Sheriffs or larger police departments.

Money for 911 systems comes from what was supposed to be a dedicated fee on cell phones and land lines, but some at the Lege want to keep the fee but use the money for other purposes, much like what's happening with grant funds at the Texas Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority. And I doubt this will be the last "dedicated" fund they divert money from before the session is through.

That said, consolidating 911 systems doesn't bother me in the least, and small agencies receiving so few calls don't need to be a 911 conduit when there's coverage through the Sheriff, etc.. This is an instance when budget reductions are forcing a true reduction in waste - eliminating redundant services that add very little public safety value considering the expense. Eventually we'll still have to pay for infrastructure upgrades, but eliminating small, wasteful, redundant systems is a good thing. Texas has 254 counties, around 1,200 municipalities, and more than 2,600 law enforcement agencies. There will still be plenty of coverage.

So to me, countywide or even regional consolidation of 911 answering makes loads of sense, even if raiding "dedicated" funds sets an unhappy precedent that almost guarantees a slippery slope. There are a lot of "dedicated" revenue streams littered throughout the criminal justice system and somebody, somewhere behind the scenes appears to have declared open season on raiding them.


Anonymous said...

"but some at the Lege want to keep the fee but use the money for other purposes"

Sounds like they are practicing to run for Congress :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article. There is no need to have people fighting over who is going to answer 911 calls, so cut the redundancy!

The larger cities that have fully trained, dedicated personnel to answer 911 calls should have some sort of local tax on them for the citiens of that particular city.
In areas that have a small city or unincorperated towns, let the counties decided what avenue they should pursue, or at least combine them altogether.

Let's cut the waste and save some money...

rodsmith said...

seems to me that once the state decides they don't need the money for what they said they need it for and now move it to another areas.

UNLESS there has been a new legal authorizion to continue the collection under the new usage. They can no longer collect the funds and the taxpayers have every legal right to order their phone companies to STOP taking the fee from them.

Seems to me the state has two choices.

Legally announce they no longer need the funds for the present usage but want to now collected it for a new use and pass a law requiring it to be used FOR the new item.

OR STOP collecting it.