Officials tie 911 revamp, fee hike

Voters to decide on rate increase

NEW ORLEANS — Voters in Orleans Parish will be asked to decide Saturday if they want to increase by a small amount the part of their monthly phone bill that pays for 911 services.

City officials and the Orleans Parish Communication District, which runs the 911 call center but doesn’t oversee the operators or dispatchers, want to revamp the operation and consolidate those employees under the OPCD.

According to Col. Terry Ebbert, chairman of the OPCD Board of Commissioners, that will provide a better response to callers during emergencies. That can’t happen, though, unless the agency gets more revenue, Ebbert said on Tuesday during a news conference called to discuss the proposed rate increases.

Bills for residential land lines and voice over Internet protocol phones, which use the Internet to make calls, would increase by $1, for a total of $2 a month under the plan. Commercial land lines and VOIP bills also would increase $1, for a $3 monthly fee.

Cell phones would go from $.0.85 a month to $1.26 a month.

If passed, the increased fees would become effective Jan. 1 and would bring in an additional $1.6 million in 2013 and $2.4 million a year after that, Ebbert said. The new revenue would fund equipment upgrades and cover the cost of the consolidation, he said.

Without the revenue increase factored in, the district expects operating revenue of $4.8 million in 2013. It will spend $5 million, Ebbert said.

He said 911 call volume has risen steadily since 2005 thanks to more and more cell phones being used, creating about 2,700 calls a day. Meanwhile, revenue has not gone up. A lack of new funding would prevent the consolidation from occurring, Ebbert said, since the district is funded solely by fees tacked onto phone bills rather than by the government.

The proposed change in operations would not only mean removing operators and dispatchers from underneath the police and fire departments and Emergency Medical Services but making each operator capable of taking calls for any agency, Ebbert said.

Right now, New Orleans Police Department operators answer all calls and transfer those calls for New Orleans Fire Department and EMS services.

If the consolidation happens, Ebbert said, quality and efficiency would improve, with calls being answered and processed sooner.

“This is the way progressive organizations around the state are moving,” he said.