911 centers want to recover money

Mary Perham

Local 911 centers will likely contact the U.S. Attorney General next month looking for help in recovering funds originally dedicated to improving and upgrading emergency dispatch.

The funds come from monthly land line and cellular phone surcharges and were supposed to be set up by the state in a reserve account for 911 use only.

Instead, the state has habitually doled out only a small portion of the surcharge revenues to 911 centers and put the remainder in the general fund and other areas.

In 2010, the state collected more than $192 million, and allocated $9.3 million to 911 operations, according to Steuben County 911 Director Dave Hopkins.

Hopkins told the county Legislature’s Public Safety Committee Monday $95 million was taken out of the total surcharge revenue and put in the state’s general budget.

State police received $25.5 million, and $11 million went toward debts and an emergency services loan. Some $51 million will be paid out in 911 grants, he said.

“All of that money should be ours,” Hopkins said. “All of it.”

Hopkins said the surcharge revenues are needed to keep dispatch operations across the state in line with rapidly advancing technology.

911 directors across the state have lobbied unsuccessfully for years to receive the funds they believe are theirs.

Hopkins said the centers may turn soon to the federal government for help.

“We are looking at the potential necessity of a lawsuit,” he said. “We won’t go after the past funds. But the state needs to legitimize this.”