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PSC disbursing money for 911 centers

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

Ever wonder where that 94 cents for the "911 surcharge" on your monthly cellular bill goes?

More than $250,000 collected from cellular phone bills will be disbursed to 911 centers in 19 counties within the next month, including $23,541.83 to Harrison County.

County 911 systems may use the monies to pay salaries, buy equipment or for other 911-related expenses.

"It has helped a lot of counties with their salaries and equipment upgrades," said Fred Smart, chief of Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services. "We are using it for equipment upgrades, so if a person dials 911 using wireless we'll be able to pinpoint the location of the caller."

The 911 center in Harrison County does receive a large volume of calls from wireless phones, Smart said. For example, an accident on the Interstate that used to generate two or three calls to 911, now generates between 20-50 calls, he said.

The legislation to charge wireless users a 911 fee came into effect January 1, 1998, according to Danny Ellis, executive director of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. The original fee was 75 cents but has since been raised.

"With the growth of popularity of cell phones, (the fee) was necessary because they can dial 911, but weren't paying to support the service," Ellis said. "It's only fair that the wireless carriers contribute to the system since they have access to it."

The PSC collects the money and distributes it according to the number of wire phone lines used in each county, Ellis said. The money is sent to the county commissions by check or a deposit in escrow. Groups of counties receive payments on a revolving quarterly basis.

The funds remitted by the wireless carriers for the months of May through July will be sent to the following counties by October 10: Barbour, $4,411.89; Berkeley, $23,392.17; Boone, $7,475.50; Braxton, $11,934.41; Brooke, $8,396.73; Cabell, $34,402.26; Calhoun, $9,776.56; Clay, $10,302.04; Doddridge, $9,611.36; Fayette, $13,573.26; Gilmer, $2,193.94; Grant, $11,351.40; Greenbrier, $11,746.67; Hampshire, $14,476.26; Hancock, $10,941.89; Hardy, $11,891.76; Harrison, $23,541.83; Jackson, $8,073.72; Jefferson, $23,213.30.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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