STATE HOUSE -- State leaders are keeping nearly $10 million of the 911 fees and Representative Robert Lancia (R-Dist. 16, Cranston) is calling them out on it. The people of Rhode Island have spoken loud and clear, “Either use the money to run and improve our 911 services or stop collecting it. Renaming the fee so you can put it in the General Fund is not honesty, it’s deceitful.”
Last week the proposed $9.6 billion budget was unveiled which many hoped would end the practice of diverting money collected to fund the 911 system into the general fund. Instead the fee paid by Rhode Islanders will be renamed the "emergency services and first response surcharge,” and the diversion will continue.
Rep. Lancia has been a longtime advocate for protecting 911 funds and stated, “This is just another bait and switch. With a mammoth $9.6 billion budget our state leaders are still insisting on pilfering the 911 fees. I cannot believe that we are still having this ridiculous debate about 911 funding just a few weeks after our entire state lost 911 coverage. Changing the name does not change the fact that money is supposed to fund our 911 system. It is time for us to stop dumping this money into the general fund and create a restricted receipt account.”
The chronic diversion of funds has caused staffing issues and delays in implementing new technologies including the ability to text 911. This is an invaluable tool for individuals in situations that are too dangerous for them to speak including domestic violence or mass shooting events. The state has allocated an additional $1 million dollars this year to hire additional personnel but there is no guarantee for next year.
Local dispatchers face even greater challenges because of limited funding with some forced to use pen and paper to direct emergency services instead of digital means. Additional funding from the state could help them upgrade aging infrastructure and connect with the state E-911 center to ensure calls are transferred seamlessly.
Industry experts including members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have said that Rhode Island must end the diversion of 911 funds and some have even suggested that the state could be ineligible to receive certain federal funding if the practice continues.
Rep. Lancia continued saying, “The 911 fee was created to ensure that every Rhode Islander has easy access to emergency services during a crisis but we have strayed far from that noble goal. It is time to stop this insidious practice of diversion and give our state dispatchers the resources they need to protect our communities.