The Argus Leader had an interesting article on the 911 surcharge dilemma facing governing bodies in the state. The City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County have a joint cooperative agreement which funds Metro Communications as a separate entity. Specifically, Metro Communications runs the 911 system covering the county and the city of Sioux Falls.
Funding has always been an issue for this agency which relies heavily on the surcharge. Dedicated funding for 911 service in South Dakota was enacted in 1989. It established a monthly uniform charge in an amount not to exceed 75 cents per service user line. State law requires the governing bodies to review the current charge at least once every calendar year to determine whether adjustments to the rate should be adjusted in order to cover anticipated expenditures.
The City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County have always had to subsidize the operational cost associated with running this agency. Granted, the majority of the calls originate within the city so the majority of the cost rests with the city. It was always a long standing belief that the surcharge was not high enough and that there was reason to go to legislature to increase that surcharge.
It is kind of baffling to read the article and the associated report. The discrepancies between what the board says the figures are and what the consultant says the figures are seem to indicate a couple things - either the data collected and furnished to the consultant was incorrect or confusing or the consultant didn't know what they were doing. The result was an inaccurate report and a contract dispute. Unfortunately, this dispute creates a cloud of distrust and suspicion regarding what is the right charge per line and makes it more difficult to come to the legislature asking for relief at the municipal/county level.
It is additionally baffling to read that the State 911 Coordination Board differs in how they view their role and whether they should be the ones to go before the legislature to recommend an increase in the per line surcharge rate. Some members believe they are just a fact gathering entity. Here is what South Dakota law says regarding this board:
SDCL 34-45-18: “There is hereby established the South Dakota 911 Coordination Board. The board shall set minimum standards for operation of public safety answering points, determine criteria for reimbursement for nonrecurring costs and the amount of reimbursement, and oversee the coordination of 911 services within the state.”
SDCL 34-45-20 establishes the duties of the Board and reads as follows:
The board shall:
(1) Evaluate all of the current public safety answering points and systems throughout the State of
South Dakota for their capability to adequately and efficiently administer systems;
(2) Develop plans for the implementation for a uniform statewide 911 system covering the entire
state or so much as is practicable;
(3) Monitor the number and location of public safety answering points or systems and the use of
911 emergency surcharge funds in their administrative and operational budgets;
(4) Develop criteria and minimum standards for operating and financing public safety answering
(5) Develop criteria for the eligibility and amount of reimbursement of recurring and nonrecurring
costs of public safety answering points or systems;
Somebody at the state level should step up to the plate and tell this board to do their job and the lead the effort for municipalities. This board set up a series of financial reporting forms for municipalities to submit in order to determine just how the 911 service in SD was being funded. So they just gather the information but don't have any responsibility to do anything other than gather the information and look at it? State law requires governing bodies to annually review the surcharge to see if it needs adjusting but there is no one to carry the ball further if a need is proven? Coordination means the harmonious functioning of parts for effective results.
The system credibility of 911 must be preserved. It affects all citizens whether they be residents, tourists and people just traveling the roads through the state to someplace else. The thought that you might not get an answer to your 911 emergency call because a municipality hasn't got enough funds to keep pace with operating costs and updated technology and equipment needs is just plain nuts.
I hate it when governmental agencies/boards whatever, shift their responsibilities and say "it is not my job." It is ridiculous for State 911 Coordination Board members to say it is not part of their responsibility to recommend what the 911 surcharge should be. This board was created to coordinate statewide 911 emergency services. If not them leading the coordinated effort regarding an increase to the surcharge rate than who? Each individual governing body? That doesn't sound like coordination to me.
Maybe the Governor needs to step in and show a little leadership and get this board back on track because right now no one seems to be leading, much less wanting to take responsibility.