By Ben Kleppinger
10:23 AM EST, December 5, 2012
LANCASTER — Plans continue to move forward to fund 911 service in Lincoln and Garrard counties with monthly water-meter fees, most recently with the filing of a "friendly lawsuit" by the city of Lancaster that will test whether the new fees stand up to constitutional muster.
In the lawsuit filed Nov. 9, the city of Lancaster argues an ordinance passed by Garrard County Fiscal Court implementing a new water-meter fee violates citizens' rights. It asks for the fee to be declared unconstitutional.
The city filed the lawsuit at the request of Garrard county and the local 911 call center, Bluegrass 911.
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 because 911 service has never been funded in Kentucky by a utility fee before, officials have said they want to make doubly sure it will hold up before they commit to using it.
Garrard County Judge-Executive and Bluegrass 911 board member John Wilson said the Kentucky Association of Counties is covering the legal costs of defending the new fee because of the significance the case has for the rest of the state.
"All the counties are watching what we're doing here," he said.
Officials at Bluegrass 911, which serves Lincoln and Garrard counties, have been warning for years of decreasing funding levels due to fewer and fewer people using landline telephones.
Traditionally, 911 services in Lincoln and Garrard has been funded through a monthly fee on landline accounts. But as cellphones and other factors have reduced the number of people paying for landline accounts, Bluegrass 911's main source of income has continued to shrink.
Supporters of the move to water-meter fees argue placing the fee on water meters more evenly distributes the cost of 911 service among all residents. Leaving the landline fee in place but increasing it to cover Bluegrass 911's operating budget would unfairly burden the elderly and others who still use landlines, they claim.
Wilson said he hopes there will be a ruling on the lawsuit this month, at which point the case will be appealed to the court of appeals.
Bluegrass 911 board members have said previously they expect the entire lawsuit process to be wrapped up by mid-2013, at which point they hope to fully implement the new water-meter fees in both counties, while abolishing the old landline fees.
If implemented, the new water meter fees are estimated to be around $3 per month per water meter, though some people like farmers may wind up getting exemptions for multiple non-residential water meters.