STANFORD — Lincoln County Fiscal Court moved forward Tuesday with a plan to change how residents fund area 911 service.
Magistrates unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that would remove a $3 monthly surcharge currently put on all Lincoln County landline phone bills and replace it with a $2.50 surcharge on all water meters in the county.
The surcharge would be used to fund Lincoln's share of the finances for Bluegrass 911, the regional 911 call center that covers Lincoln and Garrard counties.
Garrard County Fiscal Court voted Monday to pass the second reading of its ordinance enacting the same policy.
County Attorney Daryl Day, who also serves on the Bluegrass 911 board, said there are only about 5,000 or 6,000 landlines left in Lincoln County, and that number continues to drop every month.
Day estimated at this point about 35-40 percent of county residents have a landline, but the money they pay via their $3 surcharges makes up about 70-80 percent of Lincoln's 911 funding.
Of those who do still have landlines, many of them are seniors living on fixed incomes, Day said.
"We are unfairly placing the burden on older people in our county," he said. "I think that this fee passes that (911 cost) back out, spreads it more evenly among a greater number of people in Lincoln County."
Records from Bluegrass 911 show there were a total of 12,617 active landlines in Lincoln and Garrard counties in May. That number is down more than 4 percent from 13,194 active landlines in July 2011.
The loss of landline customers is an ongoing trend that has been affecting Bluegrass 911 funding for years.
According to a reporter's August 2009 analysis of Bluegrass 911 financial records, the number of landline customers in Lincoln County declined by as much as 20 percent between 2005 and 2008.
Lincoln County Judge-Executive Jim Adams said there are currently around 17,300 water meters in use in Lincoln and Garrard counties.
That means Bluegrass 911 would receive about $43,000 per month (more than $515,000 per year) from a $2.50 monthly water meter surcharge.
Unlike landlines, water meter use is steady and will increase if more people move into Lincoln County, Adams said.
"Water meters will be tied to growth," he said. "As our needs grow, as our responsibilities grow with 911, there should be a revenue source there, I hope."
Magistrate David Faulkner, who also serves on the Bluegrass 911 board along with Day and Adams, said he's been watching as income for the 911 center shrinks along with the number of landlines in the county.
"The fact of the matter is 911 will close," he said. "It'll close its doors in a year if we don't do something."
Faulkner said another, less desirable option for covering the cost of 911 service is to pay for it out of the county's general fund.
"But we don't put any general fund money into it now," he said. "It's self-sustaining, but it's getting ready to be not self-sustaining."
Magistrate Johnnie Padgett said whether the county uses a 911 surcharge or brings in additional revenue another way and pays for 911 service from the general fund, there's really no way around the cost of providing 911 service.