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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sharp County receives funds for 911 equipment

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sharp County Sheriff Mark Counts looks on as dispatcher Miki Morrow in Central Dispatch demonstrates the county's new radio consoles. The equipment was purchased with money set aside in a fund generated from a tax charged on cell phone bills.Also pictured is Det. Sgt. Ken Guidry and 911 coordinator Deborah Baker.
Sharp County Central Dispatch recently received two new radio consoles through a program which distributes a special fee collected on cellular phone bills.

State of the art touch activated screens and an updated software system allows operators a quicker response time when dispatching and responding to emergency calls, law enforcement, fire and other emergency communications.

Central Dispatch was working with outdated equipment, which often would stick leaving open microphones on the line.

Deborah Baker, Sharp County 911 coordinator said she has worked in the radio communications field for many years and the old consoles were outdated. The new equipment allows dispatchers more options and ease of usability. Dispatchers are now able to switch between one or more channels for quicker dispatch times, when seconds can save lives.

The funding for the consoles came from an increase in the amount of money from Act 1221, which is distributed to the county quarterly. The Act was created in 2009 to enhance Arkansas' public safety communications. The fee, charged on all cell phone bills, increased in 2009 from 49 percent to 83.5 percent of the 65 cent fee collected through the Arkansas Emergency Telephone Services Board (ETSB). The board is the distributing agency for the funds.

The fee is collected to assist counties with expenses related to communication equipment and maintenance of emergency services lines.

Susan Stricklin, a representative of the ETSB board, said the charge was established when cell phones became popular many years ago.

As the number of phones increased, the fund became larger than anticipated so the board set up a reserve fund. The money for the consoles was financed by $45,162.91 available to the county. Striklin said the reserve fund is comprised of 15 percent of the money that was accumulated in the fund for the county over the years based on the latest census count. She said the allocation process makes it fair for all the counties, and prevents larger counties from applying for the funds and smaller counties not receiving their share.

Sharp County Sheriff Mark Counts said he was not aware of the available money until the board notified Sharp County Judge Larry Brown about the allocation. Counts said he then met with Brown, Sharp County Treasurer Wanda Girtman and Baker.

Baker submitted a proposal to the ETSB indicating how the funds would be spent. Along with bids for the equipment. The county was asked to provide three months worth of 9-1-1 records, including the number of cell based calls coming into dispatch. Counts said a surprising 97 percent of the calls that were routed through dispatch came from cellular phones.

The money for the consoles was awarded after the board approved the purchase. It was a one time allocation to the county. The county will also receive quarterly contributions that may be used for any emergency equipment related expenses, as well as a yearly allocation for equipment maintenance, which Stricklin said is approximately $5,000.

The consoles, projectors and screens cost less than $30,000 of the reserve fund. Stricklin said the county may also spend an additional $15,352.67 for other needed equipment. Baker said the county is also interested in purchasing voice recorder software for dispatch.

The sheriff said he is interested in obtaining mapping software that would identify the location of cell phone calls made to central dispatch. Currently, calls are simply redirected from the nearest tower, and no GPS information regarding geographical location is provided to the 9-1-1 system.

With the upgraded technology, residents of the county can expect better service and response times when emergency calls are placed.

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