9.19.20 – Arkansas Democrat
The Jefferson County 911 Administrative Board approved a $2.9 million budget for 2021 on Thursday for the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association (MECA) as well as the transfer of 911 money to fund a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, the first such system upgrade the communications center has had since 2007.
Funded by fees collected from user agencies along with fees collected on land line and cellular telephone bills, MECA provides emergency dispatch communications for eight area law enforcement agencies and 16 fire departments.
To pay for the new dispatch system, Karen Blevins, Office of Emergency Management coordinator, told board members she planned to use increased 911 fees collected from cellphone users, VOiP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone users, and other nontraditional telephone service subscribers.
“The state did increase that fee from 65 cents to $1.30 per month so we’re seeing a substantial increase in 911 revenues due to that,” she said. “That is what we want to use to purchase the new CAD.”ADVERTISING
Blevins said the fee increase had already brought in an additional $300,000 this year, bringing the total fees remitted to MECA to $740,000.
Blevins said after looking at several CAD systems, the choice had been narrowed down to a system developed by Motorola that will cost about $400,000.
She told the board that a revised 2020 budget includes an additional $101,000 that will be used to make a down payment before the end of the year.
“Next year, because it’s going to take about 12 months to get the system installed and brought online, we’ll make the rest of the payments next year,” Blevins said. “It will be paid out in percentages with the last payment being made after the system is installed next year.”
In addition to the increased revenue from 911 fees, Blevins noted that there had also been some savings due to covid-related furloughs.
The four members of the five-member board, White Hall Mayor Noel Foster, the board chairman, Rob Cheatwood, Ernest Jones and Charles Bruce, unanimously approved the request. The four men attended the meeting, which is held annually, via Zoom. Michael Stevens, the fifth board member, was not able to attend.
Foster noted that the current system is outdated and needed replacing, and said that he, County Judge Gerald Robinson and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, who chairs the MECA Board, had reviewed the new system and were all in favor of making the purchase.
“The Motorola system will actually cross over and be of benefit to the individual agencies,” Foster said. “There’s a lot of modules in it that are interworking and so we do need to update the equipment.”
“I think the last upgrade we’ve had has been, correct me if I’m wrong, but, how long ago, Karen?” said Robinson. “When was that last upgrade we had?”
“2007,” Blevins replied.
“We’re way out of date,” Robinson said.
“We’ve had one upgrade to the system since then but we saw no difference in the product,” Blevins said. “They called it an upgrade but we saw no difference.”
“Well, that’s what this money is for,” Foster said. “I believe in us having money in reserves and that’s what this money is for.”
Blevins also briefed the board on a new telephone system that was recently installed.
“In our last meeting at the end of last year we had presented in our budget for 2020 to purchase a new 911 telephone system,” Blevins said. “That new system did go online May 29th, we were a little delayed in that just due to the covid.”