The Cape May County Board of County Commissioners unanimously supported a resolution on Tuesday to back legislation that “Prioritizes distribution of 9-1-1 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund monies and permits use of funds for certain expenses incurred by counties and municipalities for the provision and maintenance of 9-1-1 emergency services.” The measure has been introduced in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate under bill numbers A-5962 and S-5041.
New Jersey collects a fee on every individual’s phone bill each month that is supposed to support 911 services. The 9-1-1 System and Emergency Response Fee is $.90 for every phone line each month for New Jersey residents. The New Jersey Association of Counties reported this year that the Garden State has collected approximately $1.5 billion in fees since 2006 with only 11% of Fund monies being spent on eligible expenses. Largely, the money has been diverted to cover general operating expenses in the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. The proposed legislation would ensure that money is passed down to counties and municipalities to fund improvements and operations of 911 dispatch.
“This is an issue that I have been fighting for many years in cooperation with our partner organizations, the New Jersey Association of Counties and the Southern New Jersey Commissioners Association,” said Cape May County Commissioner Director Gerald M. Thornton. “As the Commissioner who oversees Emergency Management and oversaw the creation of our central dispatch center, it is wrong to watch New Jersey divert these funds away from where they belong.”
County governments across New Jersey spent an estimated $175 million over the last several years on capital improvements for facility upgrades, telephone systems, computer aided dispatch, location mapping technology, voice recording technology, data analytics, and Next Generation 9-1-1 capabilities upgrades. Counties also spend an estimated $96 million per year on general operating expenses for salaries, staff training, system maintenance, network security, and IT consulting services. As a direct result of this longstanding misallocation of funds, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules in 2018 that now prohibits New Jersey, and its counties and municipalities, from applying for millions of dollars in federal grant monies to upgrade 9-1-1 centers with Next Generation 9-1-1 capabilities.
“Our State residents are paying into a fee that is supposed to help them in times of trouble,” said Cape May County Commissioner Vice-Director Len Desiderio. “All we are asking for is the State government to put the money back where it belongs, including improving 911 centers across the State so our men and women who are first responders can answer the call as quickly and safely as possible.”