State budget battle could hang up on 911 centers

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Would you be able to live without 911? Politics is putting even the most at risk at further risk when they dial that universal 3-digit number and no one picks up.

For smaller counties in Illinois, the budget stalemate is putting 911 call centers on life support.

One county is in such trouble they may only have 30-90 days before the well is dry and taxpayers pay the price. Bureau County is 120 miles southwest of Chicago and in a matter of months they might not be offering the service at all.

Steve Rauter runs one of the 911 centers in Will County. His center alone processes over 300,000 calls a year while the county overall fields 1.3 million. Will County 911 has an annual operating budget of $5.4 million dollars. Since the budget stalemate began, Will is already $1.8 million in the hole when it comes to keeping centers open and operating.

“If they need to close their doors, they will put out public notice with a list with all of our fire department and police departments with a 10 digit number,” he said. “You dial that 10 digit number and better hope somebody answers it.”

911 centers are already in consolidation across the state. The number of centers will be cut in half by summer of 2017.

The issue is this money should not be a subject of the budget dispute. It's called “pass through money” that the state simply distributes when it comes in.

Here's how it works: 85% of funding for 911 centers comes from cell lines. The other 15% is from land lines, a number in rapid decline. Each user is charged 73 cents a month to support 911 authorities like Will County's. Springfield collects the money and distributes it to the various centers, making it "pass through" money. Places like Will County can survive without it for only so long. The bosses at the centers want the governor to quit holding that money hostage and call the situation dire.

Amount of money taxpayers will be charged for 911 services goes up this January from 73 cents to 87 cents. In Will County, 911 authorities say if they can't get the funding loosened up with legislation, they'll get it with litigation.