By Ray King

With no dissent, the 911 Administrative Board on Thursday approved the transfer of 911 money to MECA (Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association) to help fund operations and to purchase a new CAD (computer assisted dispatch) system.

Meeting virtually, four of the five members of the board, Rob Cheatwood, Ernst Jones, Charles Bruce and White Hall Mayor Noel Foster, who is chairman of the board also approved a 2021 budget of $2.19 million. That figure is almost $100,000 more than the 2020 approved budget and almost $60,000 more than the 2020 revised budget. The fifth member, Dr. Michael Stevens, was not able to attend.

MECA is funded by fees collected on land line and cellular telephones, and by user agencies whose costs are determined by their usage. For example, the City of Pine Bluff pays 70.76 percent of the total agency costs, and Jefferson County pays 25.35 percent. Other users including the Cities of White Hall, Altheimer, Redfield, Humphrey, Wabbaska and Sherill collectively pay the rest.

Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Karen Blevins, whose office also directs MECA, told the board that she wanted to use additional revenue generated by an increase in the amount cellular telephone customers pay in state taxes to pay for the new dispatch system. She said the Arkansas General Assembly increased the monthly fee from 65-cents per month to $1.35 per month.

That increase has resulted in MECA having received $740,000 so far this year. Blevins said that was already $300,000 more than what the agency received last year, and she hopes there will be at least one more check from the state agency that collects the fees.

While fees collected on cellular telephones is increasing, Blevins said fees collected on land lines is decreasing. In the 2020 budget, it was estimated that land line fees would produce $200,000 and $440,000 in cellular fees. The 2020 revised budget kept the land line fees at $200,000 while increasing the amount expected to be received from cell phones to $740,000.

Blevins said the new Motorola dispatch system will cost about $400,000 and she wants to use the fee increase to cover the cost, starting with a $101,000 down payment this year. That payment would cover 25 percent of the total cost of the system, and the balance would be paid in 2021, again using money from the increased fees collected on cell phones.

Foster said he, County Judge Gerald Robinson and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington had all received information from Motorola about the new system and said it will be a benefit for user agencies, like the police department in White Hall, because of a lot of modules that can be utilized.

Responding to a question from Robinson, Blevins said the last update for the system was in 2007.

“So, we’re way out of date,” Robinson said.