By Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone
Summer is in full swing and the weather is extraordinary! I’ve been all over the place the past few weeks with my fellow Freeholders, visiting towns, festivals and businesses throughout our beautiful Monmouth County, and nothing makes me happier than to see businesses thriving and residents and tourists enjoying all that we have to offer here. Speaking of festivals, many of these summer events would not be possible without the support of our law enforcement officers, first responders and volunteers. I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our first responders, especially our law enforcement officers during this sad and tragic time in our country. Thank you all for serving and protecting us every day and making our communities a safe place to live. The officers here in Monmouth County are among the best in the country and I pray you stay safe each and every day.
We constantly strive to provide the best training and infrastructure for our first responders so that they can excel at their jobs and continue to keep our communities safe. We do our best to stay on the cutting edge for equipment, facilities and information, but a big part of the equation also includes our emergency response system and staff.
Monmouth County wants to move forward with timely upgrades and improvements to its 9-1-1 system, yet we are wondering why the funds being collected for this purpose are not finding their way to the county treasury? We estimate that our taxpayers are paying more than $5 million annually as their share of the 9-1-1 system fee. We want that money to come back to fund 9-1-1 improvements that will serve residents, businesses and visitors. Presently, taxpayers pay a 90 cent 9-1-1 system and emergency response fee which is part of all monthly phone bills. A portion of that money should have been allocated to implement the PSAPs infrastructures through Next Generation 911(NG911).
Where is our money? I, along with Sheriff Shaun Golden and my fellow Freeholders are calling on the State of New Jersey to find out what happened to the funds collected by the 9-1-1 system and emergency response fee that is charged to taxpayers, on all phone bills. Statewide, the fee generates an estimated $120 million annually and is to be allocated to upgrade state, county and local 9-1-1 systems. The plan specifically calls for infrastructures of 9-1-1 centers also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to be able to receive text messages, photos and videos during emergency situations. Unfortunately, the majority of the collected funds have not been used for its intended purposes.
NG911 systems will facilitate public safety telecommunicators throughout the state to receive digital information in the form of emergency text messages, photos and videos. While the technology is available, upgrades, plans, coordination and training can’t be implemented without adequate funding.
According to Sheriff Shaun Golden, our 9-1-1 systems need to be upgraded with this technology in order for PSAPs to enhance the public safety and well-being of our residents during emergency situations, and without this funding, no advancement will take place. We are all calling on the state to return the funds back into the account in an effort to move ahead with the original plan of building a cutting edge 9-1-1 system.
According to a report issued by the FCC for 2014, $120 million was generated for the trust fund in which an estimated $107 million was used for other purposes. Monmouth County hasn’t received any funding since 2011, and, since the inception of the trust fund in 2005, the county received a total of $1.14 million for 9-1-1 services. If the county had been reimbursed at the 2008 amount of $350,000, it would have received nearly $2.5 million over the past six years.
A proposed state assembly bill (A-3461/3544), is calling for an additional 9 cents to be added to the 9-1-1 system and emergency response fee which would raise the surcharge for taxpayers from 90 cents to 99 cents a month.
I agree with Sheriff Golden, as we are vehemently opposed to this bill, since taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of paying additional money into the fund when it is being used for other purposes – this increase is unjust, especially without an explanation from the state as to where the funding went or if it will replenished.
The Monmouth County 9-1-1 Communications Center is a state of the art facility and blueprint for emergency services nationwide. It answers 9-1-1 calls for 49 jurisdictions and dispatches for 21 police, 59 fire and 32 EMS agencies. The center handles 650,000 calls annually and is staffed with 118 full time employees. With all its advances in 9-1-1 services in recent years, Monmouth County’s PSAP, like many others, are at a standstill with digital information, since it cannot move forward with the Next Gen 911 internet protocol, based system.
We will not give up and we hope you will join us in this fight to locate the money owed to Monmouth County so that we can continue to provide you with the best service possible and keep Monmouth County a safe place to live and work.
And please thank a law enforcement officer the next time you see one! Thank you as always for your support.
Freeholder Direcctor Tom Arnone and be reached at [email protected]