LANCASTER — Officials across Kentucky are watching the small communities of Lincoln and Garrard counties as a lawsuit moves forward that could set a precedent for how 911 call centers are funded in the future.
Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty ruled recently that a new 911-funding fee implemented on water meters in Lincoln and Garrard counties is constitutional.
“The argument that we made, that the judge accepted, was that this is a fee — a user fee,” said Mike Troop, the attorney representing Garrard County in the case. “In a fee, you only raise enough money to cover your cost, and that’s what the 911 center does and has always done. It’s not a revenue-generating source; it’s not there to make money.”
Even though the ordinances creating the fee have been on the books for months now, officials from Bluegrass 911, the call center that serves the two counties, have said they want to be sure the new fee will stand up in court before they commit to fully implementing it as the main source of local 911 funding.
State law appears to be written to allow 911 funding through “any special tax, license, or fee not in conflict with the Constitution and statutes.”
But 911 service has never been funded in Kentucky by a utility fee before, making this new territory for 911 providers and the courts.
Bluegrass 911 Director Russ Clark said he’s been told the next step is to have someone — perhaps the Kentucky League of Cities — appeal the ruling.
If an appellate court upholds Daugherty’s original ruling, that would further strengthen the legal basis for implementing the new fee.
The ruling comes as Bluegrass 911 is running out of money from the traditional local funding source for emergency call centers, a monthly surcharge on landline telephone accounts. As fewer and fewer people pay for landlines, there is less and less money coming in from the surcharges.
Troop, whom the Kentucky Association of Counties is paying to represent Garrard County, said the ultimate outcome of the case will have “statewide impact.”
“It is an important issue statewide,” he said. “It really is, because there’s got to be an alternate for 911 funding.”
To set up the legal challenge in the first place, Lincoln and Garrard fiscal courts established a monthly 911 fee of 25 cents on water meters in the counties.
If the lawsuit goes the way officials expect, the fiscal courts could raise those fees to an estimated $2.50 per month while also eliminating their landline surcharges.