911 Dispatch Services at Risk of Losing Funding

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As lawmakers continue to haggle over a budget, critical services to Illinois residents become increasingly at risk, including 911 services, whose funding source could dry up if the Governor doesn’t sign a bill sitting on his desk.

Several dispatchers man the phones, helping callers in need at the Winnebago County Dispatch Center.  However, its been several years since the facility’s been upgraded and the Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten says they’re falling behind.

“We have not had an [budget] increase in many years to upgrade our infrastructure and to also provide a long-term continuity of operations,” said Chief Bergsten.

The County’s dispatch center, like other centers across the state, brings in money from a surcharge on cell phones.  Currently, cell phone users are charged 87 cents per month on their phone bill, but sitting on the governor’s desk is a bill to double that fee.

“That’s what we would depend on for revenue, for staffing, and for equipment to answer 911 calls,” said Chief Bergsten.

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana says the dispatch center is lacking upgraded equipment.  He says dispatchers can only help people if they call, and says there are times when victims are in a situations where calling is not an option.

“The next generation 911, which provides video and texting…is a good thing,” said Sheriff Caruana. “It gives us more capability for the citizens to talk with us.  It takes us out of the antique mode. We’re a little antiquated right now and (an upgrade would get) us to be up to speed.”

The current 911 funding bill is set to expire at the end of June.

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