Residents of McCracken County may have to pay a utility fee to help fund upgrades to components of a 911 system that were last upgraded in 2008.
The Paducah City Commission and the McCracken County Fiscal Court discussed issues affecting the E-911 Center -- which one study says could cost about $13 million to upgrade -- at their second joint meeting Tuesday night.
"The 911 system provides for the protection of citizens, and protection of citizens is the first and highest priority of government," McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said. "We want to join together and try to resolve this problem."
City and county law enforcement agencies are encountering difficulties due to outdated equipment, Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird and McCracken County Sheriff Matt Carter said during a presentation on E-911.
"It's a matter of time (until) our equipment will become obsolete, to where they can't repair it at all," Carter said. "A lot of these (radios), as they go down, they're essentially paperweights."
About 112 radios at the sheriff's office need to be replaced, Carter said.
The police department also encounters problems when newer radios attempt to communicate with older systems. Police radios don't work in larger buildings within the city -- a problem officers now deal with by bringing their cell phones with them, Laird said.
He clarified that 911 calls from residents still make it to dispatch; the issue is that officers have a hard time communicating with dispatch in certain areas.
The two presented a 2017 study from Federal Engineering that placed the cost of an updated, six-tower system at $13 million. The price includes $6 million in upgrades to towers and antennae, $4.5 million in radio infrastructure improvements and $2.5 million in updated portables and other radios.
"I don't think there's a single component that you can extract out of the system (to fix the entire problem)," Laird said.
The study also stated that funding 911 systems has been a nationwide challenge due to the decline in landline use. Landline fees provided 100 percent of the operating costs for the E-911 center 25 years ago, but many people have only cell phones now.
The commission and fiscal court are considering a proposal that would abolish the landline fee while introducing a flat utility fee all residents would pay. Officials haven't yet determined the cost of the fee, Mayor Brandi Harless said.
The mayor and others said they supported the idea of a fee instead of a tax, as a fee would go into a direct fund dedicated only to E-911. Clymer, however, said he saw problems with a fee, and he believed a tax might be preferable.
He also questioned whether utility companies would be willing or able to collect the 911 fee on behalf of the government.
The proposal also would consolidate city and county 911 operations again. The agency would function independently, with two appointees from the city and county, one appointee apiece from the Paducah and McCracken fire departments, and a citizen appointee determined jointly by the mayor and judge-executive.
The current 911 Communications Services has been structured under the city of Paducah since 2016, and is now a division of the Paducah Police Department. It receives more than 150,000 calls per year, city spokeswoman Pam Spencer said.
Officials who were in office in 2016, when the joint city and county 911 center split operations, said the structure of the new agency would eliminate the problems the previous group encountered.
An independent board also could allow the city and county to invite other nearby areas to join in a regional 911 system.
Officials agreed on the importance of exploring options for E-911, and they planned to continue discussing the issue and gathering information.
"I think people would recognize the necessity of this. Are they willing to dig in and do it?" Clymer asked.