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Emergency 911 levy on Brooke ballots

WELLSBURG — As the June 9 primary election approaches, Brooke County voters are being asked to consider a four-year levy to support improvements to the county’s emergency 911 center.

If approved, the levy will raise $570,296 per year for four years “to operate, maintain and improve and repair equipment; train and educate employees; purchase supplies needed for the general maintenance and repair of the 911 Communication Center facilities; provide for salaries, wages and benefits of the employees; and for capital improvements to the 911 Communication Center.”

Levy rates are 1.6 cents per $100 of assessed Class I property; 3.2 cents per $100 of assessed Class II property; and 6.4 cents per $100 of assessed Class III and IV property.

The commissioners said they set the levy’s term at four years because county levies for the ambulance service, fire departments and other services will be up for renewal at that time and they plan to explore including future costs for the center in one of them.

Christina White, the emergency 911 center’s director since November and a dispatcher there since 1998, said the center relies largely on monthly fees collected from the county’s land line phone users.

She said as many residents have dropped land line phones for cell phones only, that revenue as dropped about $5,000 per year.

In 2018 the Brooke County Commission raised the monthly land line fee from $2.05 to $6.05 to prevent the center from operating at a deficit.

But they said it doesn’t generate the funds needed for much needed improvements.

A $3.34 monthly fee collected by the state from cell phone users is divided among the West Virginia State Police for statewide 911 upgrades; the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to establish and maintain an interoperable radio network involving local agencies; and each of the 55 counties based on their population.

White said improvements are needed to address areas of the county where radio communication between first responders is hindered by terrain. With the cooperation of Ohio County officials, a tower there is being used to boost signals for the Bethany area.

But there are still many “dead zones,” including Cross Creek and U.S. Route 22 near Main Street, Weirton, she said.

White said while the center’s computer aided dispatch software was upgraded in 2007, its computer consoles date to the mid 1990s and its monitors haven’t been replaced in 11 years.

She noted as with many things, the cost for new computers rises each year.

White said state required training for the center’s nine full-time dispatchers has increased and can cost as much as $400 per class.

“Each year they add and change things, and dispatchers have to be recertified every two years,” she said.

White said it’s natural that the state would expect all dispatchers to be well trained because often much is at stake when they receive a 911 call.

“We’re talking about people’s lives and homes. The taxpayers deserve, when they call us, to have the best service,” she said.

“As director, I’m really counting on residents to support the levy and help us better serve them with new technology. That’s the goal.”

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