In June alone, AT&T told Bluegrass 911 it lost around 1,200 landlines — a startling jump from the average decline over the past year of about 41 AT&T lines per month.
Clark said the loss was so unbelievable, he's called AT&T to make sure it wasn't an error, but has yet to hear back.
Across all telephone carriers in Lincoln and Garrard counties, landline use shrunk by nearly 1,800 lines in the past year, including the recent 1,200-line AT&T loss, Bluegrass 911 records show.
Bluegrass 911 does get about 38 cents per month from every cell phone in its coverage area. The state collects 70 cents per cell phone and then divvies that money up to 911 call centers, but not before percentages are taken out for administration and the cell phone companies.
Clark said cell phone use is "pretty much … at a standstill" and Bluegrass 911 can't cover landline losses with cell phone growth anymore.
The switch from landlines to water meters includes a reduction of 50 cents in the per-unit charge, but because there are currently about 5,000 more water meters than landlines in Lincoln and Garrard, Bluegrass 911 will actually see its total income rise.
After taking out the percentage of the new charge that water associations and providers will keep as an administrative fee, Clark thinks the center will see an increase in revenue of about $30,000 per year, bringing funding back up to where it was in 2006.
"I think it will be enough with some other cost-saving measures that we've got in place," he said. "I think that it will be adequate funding."
No pleasant alternatives
Clark said one alternative to switching to water meters would be to increase the per-unit charge on landlines.
But that would unfairly burden a minority of the population with a majority of the costs for 911 service, he said.
Currently, Bluegrass 911 gets about 70 percent of its income from landline telephones, but only about 30 percent of its approximately 50,000 annual 911 calls come from landlines.
"Most people who have a landline phone are living on fixed income," Clark said. "They're elderly or at least over the age of 40."
It's also been suggested during 911 funding discussions that without a change to water meters, Lincoln and Garrard counties may have to start putting money into Bluegrass 911 directly from their general funds.
Clark said prior to the formation of Bluegrass 911, 911 service was costing Lincoln County about $150,000 per year out of its general fund, on top of income from landlines and cell phones.
Garrard County and Lancaster were each paying about $48,000 per year to cover their 911 costs, he said.
The creation of Bluegrass 911 in 2007 allowed the two counties to consolidate their 911 services into a single call center funded solely by income from landlines and cell phones.
Since then, neither county has had to pay anything out of their general funds, Clark said.
That means Bluegrass 911 has possibly saved the counties as much as $1.2 million in 911 expenses over its lifetime.
Back in front of the myriad computer screens on Friday, Dowell filled out a call report and juggled the four computer mice on her desk while Combs handled an apparent prank call coming from a child.
"If you don't know how to multitask, then this job's not for you," Combs said.
Combs said talking to children on their level is important because they're often scared or intimidated to be talking to 911.
That's one reason she volunteers to visit area schools and educate kids about what she does as a 911 dispatcher.
"As a 911 system, we try to take care of the people as well as the community," she said.