By a margin of 102 votes, Pottawatomie County voters on Tuesday rejected a proposed tariff increase on landline phone bills of 48 to 88 cents per month that would have funded improvements for the county's 911 services.
Unofficial results show 724 voters cast a ballot in the election, with 413 voters, or 57 percent, voting against the proposition, while 311, or 39.8 percent, voted in favor of the increase.
J.R. Kidney, who serves as chairman of the Pottawatomie County 911 trust authority, was disappointed in the election results.
"With next generation 911 coming…and the future of text 911, we were hoping to receive the increase," Kidney said, so funds could be used for increased training and to better serve the community.
Eligible to vote in the election were those with Shawnee phone numbers and living outside of the city limits, along with those in the county 911 service areas of Bethel Acres, Tecumseh, Maud, Tribbey, Pearson, Wanette, Earlsboro, and McLoud.
Voters were asked to increase the tariff for landline phone service from 10 to 15 percent of the basic phone service costs, with the fee ranging from 95 cents each month on the low side in Maud to the highest rate of $1.75 per month for customers in Tecumseh. Tariff amounts vary based on different phone service providers.
According to Tommy Arnold, director of the Pottawatomie County E-911 Center, the additional tariff was requested for operations of enhanced 911 services and equipment, and to increase capabilities at the 911 center in Tecumseh, such as having the ability for texting 911 services and upgrading to other next generation equipment.
With a 10 percent tariff, the Pottawatomie County E-911 system collected about $121,131.93 for the first six months of the fiscal year that started in July 2012, so based on those collections, the proposed tariff increase was expected to bring in about $120,000 in additional funding per year.
With the measure failing, Kidney said the board will have to go back and weigh out projects with the most priority. With the recent implementation to emergency medical dispatching, there were plans for emergency fire and police dispatching protocols, which requires extra training for dispatchers.
"Sometimes you have to put training on the back burner…we have to have equipment," Kidney said.
Kidney, who wondered if Tuesday's snowy weather affected those going to the polls, said he wasn't sure if the informal talks between the county and city of Shawnee about possibly merging 911 centers had any effect on the election.
Regardless, Kidney said he would like "to see a study and bring it back to a November election," if that is even possible.
As far as the 15 percent tariff, Kidney said that's the amount they were told they needed to be eligible to apply for grants, "so that could hurt us in the future."
Page 2 of 2 - Arnold, who didn't return a call for comment about the election results by Tuesday's press deadlines, has said that collected 911 tariff fees have been on the decline because of decreases in landline phones. He said they are losing about $30,000 each year with people switching to cell phone use.
The proposal for increased landline tariffs wouldn't have affected those with cell phones as those customers already pay a separate, flat fee of 50 cents per month for 911 services.
Kidney said with landlines being dropped daily, 911 officials from around the state may need to talk to their legislators about the possibility of increasing the cell phone flat tariff.
"We could greatly benefit if cell phones go up 25 cents," Kidney said.