“Technology has improved at a rapid pace but the systems our municipalities use to provide emergency services have not kept up with the advances,” said Tilley. “One of the biggest issues we see is that our 911 call centers are funded by a surcharge on landlines but the majority of users have moved away from landlines to cell phones. The result is a lack of funding that has prevented call centers from upgrading equipment to provide a reliable system that is compatible with current technology.”
Tilley said he expects the committee to look at ways to provide the funding necessary to improve 911 emergency service systems across the state. The legislature has seen bills filed in recent years to allow local governments to add a charge to cell phone users’ monthly bills to fund 911 call centers. Tilley said that a statewide user fee is another option that has been looked at in the past, but pointed to two rejected ballot measures as an indication that voters do not support a fee increase to pay for 911 service. Missouri is the only state in the nation without a statewide fee for wireless 911 service.
“During a time when so many Missourians are struggling to make ends meet, the last thing we want to do is burden them with a fee increase,” said Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, who will serve as chairman of the committee. “But if we’re going to improve a system that is in desperate need of help we have to look at the fact that more and more households have switched to wireless service and no longer pay fees for 911, but still use the service.”
Gatschenberger said the lack of funding has created a dangerous situation as the ability of Missouri’s 911 call centers to effectively respond to callers has lagged behind that of centers in other states. Currently, 911 centers in more than 30 Missouri counties do not have the technology necessary to locate a person calling on a cell phone. Call centers in 17 counties do not have the technology necessary to locate an individual calling on a landline.
“It’s a dangerous situation and something that deserves our immediate attention,” said Gatschenberger. “We take for granted that dialing 911 will bring us immediate help, but that simply isn’t the case in all parts of the state.”
Gatschenberger said the committee will hold four meetings in Jefferson City in the coming weeks. They will work to submit a report with recommendations to the Speaker by December 31.