The province and the Union of B.C. Municipalities is working to find a funding solution to the provincial 911 service. They have been looking for ways to pay for the booming operating costs as the population switches over to mobile phones. At the moment the service is paid through taxes, but that leaves cell coverage lacking. There is a national 911 fee that cell service providers charge
So the province and UBCM wanted feedback on the proposal and sent out a report. Council asked administration to give a more in-depth review of the literature provided on the proposed Provincial 911 Call Answering Levy (CAL).
During Monday’s meeting, Fire Chief Wayne Price, from Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, explained that the first step in the process is the Public Safety Answering Point. There are 13 in the province and the area’s PSAP is administered by the RCMP in Kelowna.
When you dial 911 in this area the call goes to Kelowna, where they ask if it’s police, ambulance or fire. That then goes to a more specific dispatch. For an ambulance call in Cranbrook, it would be passed from Kelowna PSAP to Kamloops. Fire goes directly to dispatch here.
“Costs have been going up,” he said. “Cranbrook’s share in 2006 was $22,000. Last year it was $42,000.
“Right now we tax our residents for their share of the 911 system. As you can see it’s gone up almost 100 per cent in six years.”
Price said that part of the reason for the rising costs is the exponential rise of technology, and costs could rise another 10 per cent in the next year or two.
“If you look at technologies, they are changing every month and I think they just can’t keep up to provide an efficient service,” he said. “They can’t keep up with the current devices.”
Even the errant pocket dials are putting a lot of stress on the system.
One of the solutions taken from other similar services in North America is the call levy fee on every phone, not just landlines. Price said they would probably also add a caveat about future devices being included as well if capable of making 911 calls.
Price is wary of a tax solution, since it would likely keep rising up every couple of years that it is presented. He said the levy allows the user to pay for the services that they are using.
“I think it’s a wise idea, especially as so many are forgoing their landlines now and only have a cellphone,” said Coun. Sharon Cross, adding that both mobile and landline phone users pay their fair share for the service.
Price said they are also hoping to get some grants that take into consideration the extra stress to the emergency system that comes in the summer months as vacationers come to the area.