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Co. commissioners support statewide 911 mapping project

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

A pool of money collected through long distance fees could be used to improve 911 systems across the state.

Harrison County commissioners Tuesday got behind a plan supported by the West Virginia Enhanced 911 Council that if approved will initiate a statewide mapping project.

The council has petitioned the state Public Service Commission to allot money for the plan. Now they are seeking support from each county.

"The E-911 council is asking officials to get on board as interveners," commission administrator James Harris said. "They want us to take a position to try to influence the decision."

The fee is already collected by Bell Atlantic from other long distance providers for use of their phone line network, said Dannie Walker, technical analyst for the Public Service Commission.

Every three years, the service commission reviews the Bell Atlantic fee fund. During those reviews, commissioners could decide to discontinue it.

If that happens, long distance providers could pass the savings on to consumers, he said.

"The cost savings can be passed on, but the (911 council) would like to see the money used for this project," Walker said.

"Enhanced 911 means the dispatcher gets a phone number and a dispatchable address. That's a real problem in West Virginia."

Switching to a city or street address system means emergency workers will have better directions to callers' homes, he said.

To be effective, the process also involves detailed maps of each county, which is what the 911 council project addresses.

Fee money has been used to provide Internet access in classrooms, but the council wants some of those funds to go toward their project.

Harrison commissioners Tuesday unanimously voted to do so, despite some questions.

"Can we turn in our bills to get our share?" asked Commissioner Thomas Keeley.

Harrison and several other counties already have started mapping projects, and have incurred expenses, Harris said. Some counties have completed their mapping projects.

Harrison County has spent more than $30,000 on aerial photography, according to the commission. The actual map making is expected to be even more expensive.

Reimbursing counties that have completed or started their mapping projects has been discussed, but it is too early to tell if that will be part of the plan, Walker said.

The service commission should make a ruling on the matter by the end of this year, he said.

In other action, commissioners set aside their 10 a.m. June 22 meeting for the state Division of Environmental Protection to conduct a regional meeting with elected officials.

Division officials will spend most of the two-hour meeting fielding questions from officials from Harrison, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Preston, Taylor, Doddridge, Marion and Monongalia counties, Harrison Commissioner Beth Taylor said.

The main purpose of the meeting is to bring awareness of environmental issues to the state officials, Taylor said.

"Charleston is not in everybody's back yard," she said. "This is a chance for people to see their state government in action."

Members of the public also can attend the meeting. More information is available from the division at (304) 759-0542 or from the Harrison commission at (304) 624-8500.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404.

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