Public safety officials back 911 surcharge to upgrade system

Governor threatens to veto bill

Public safety officials are calling for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign legislation that would increase phone fees across the state in order to modernize the 911 emergency service system.

"The state is in the process of modernizing a 30-year-old 911 network to create a more efficient and reliable system to ensure public safety response for all of Illinois," Association of Public Safety Professionals Illinois Chapter President Brent Reynolds said during a news conference June 23 at the College of DuPage's Robert J. Miller Homeland Security Education Center.

The proposed legislation increases the 911 surcharge from 87 cents to $1.50 per month per device, or an annual increase of $7.56 per phone. In Chicago, the 911 surcharge would increase from $3.90 to $5.

Reynolds said the increase is needed to assist 911 dispatch centers in replacing obsolete equipment and upgrading to the technology needed to meet the mandated Next Generation 911 standards that include texting to 911.

Linda Zerwin, executive director of the Emergency Telephone System Board of DuPage County and a 911 service advisory member representing counties with a population of 250,000 or more, noted that with a resident population of just less than 1 million and 62 police and fire agencies, the DuPage County board is the largest county Emergency Telephone System Board in the state.

She said consolidation efforts of the county's 911 system began in 2008, resulting in an annual savings of about $7 million in operating costs.

"The challenge is that even with reducing costs by $7 million annually, a 911 surcharge of 87 cents does not cover all of the costs of a modern 911 system," Zerwin said.

She said the Emergency Telephone System Board currently receives about $8 million in 911 surcharges for a $28 million-a-year operation, and the balance of that amount has been borne by the municipal and Sheriff's Office general funds.

Rauner's administration has said he will not support the proposed legislation because of the surcharge hikes.

"The city of Chicago has already received two significant increases in the last four years – from $1.25 to $2.50 in 2013 and from $2.50 to $3.90 in 2014," said Jason Heffley, Rauner's policy adviser for energy and environment, in a memo to Cindy Barbera-Brelle, statewide 911 administrator. "Additionally, the increase for the remainder of the state is significantly higher than the $1.05 that was recommended by the 911 Advisory Board that studied the issue for two years."

The bill also would allow AT&T to end providing landline service in Illinois.

Reynolds said he believes the General Assembly has the votes to override Rauner's veto, and he accused the governor's office of "playing politics."

"I don't think we should be playing politics with public safety and the well-being of our residents of Illinois," Reynolds said.