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State's 911 board researches whether surcharge should stay

PIERRE--The state panel overseeing South Dakota's conversion to a new system for receiving emergency calls discussed Thursday the first draft of a report analyzing whether a temporary surcharge on phone lines should be permanent.

PIERRE-The state panel overseeing South Dakota's conversion to a new system for receiving emergency calls discussed Thursday the first draft of a report analyzing whether a temporary surcharge on phone lines should be permanent.

The Legislature decided in 2012 to increase the surcharge from 75 cents to $1.25 per month to help fund the project.

As part of the same legislation, lawmakers decided the surcharge would be reduced to $1 per month on July 1, 2018.

The distribution formula also would change under the law in mid-2018 so that none of the surcharge went to the state 911 coordination fund.

The only source of funding for the 911 conversion project and its operating contract then would be the surcharge on prepaid wireless cards, according to the draft report.

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Those are reasons why the state 911 Coordination Board that is managing the conversion is concerned there won't be enough revenue available under the changes already set in law.

The board recently commissioned a "white paper" that could be distributed someday to legislators and the public, making the argument for the $1.25 to continue beyond the July 1, 2018, sunset date.

The paper warns at one point: "Based on current contractual commitments for the NG911 system, the project will see a deficit of nearly $2 million as early as 2021."

NG refers to Next Generation.

The board currently has about $7 million in reserve while annual revenues are about $3.6 million and annual costs are projected to vary from $3.6 million to $4.6 million.

The sunset of the 25 cents and the change in distribution would cut the revenue down to about $900,000 annually starting in 2019.

State 911 coordinator Shawnie Rechtenbaugh said Thursday there wouldn't be an attempt to make the $1.25 permanent during the 2016 legislative session that opens next month.

The current draft of the white paper is under review by state Public Safety Secretary Trevor Jones. The 911 board is attached to his department.

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"At this point it's not out of our hands, but for Secretary Jones to take it from here and discuss it with the governor," board member Steve Harding, a Pierre city commissioner, said.

Ted Rufledt Jr., of Rapid City, the state board's chairman, described the draft as "a good start" and offered that other funding options could be considered too.

"It's well done and I'm happy to hear the secretary was pleased with it," Rufledt said. "This is a serious issue, and the state has made a commitment to get into the 911 business."

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