- Associated Press - Saturday, December 23, 2017

ATLANTA (AP) - Nearly $5 million in funding for Georgia 911 services disappeared this year, and no one has been able to explain exactly why.

The money came from a 75-cent fee on prepaid phones sold in Georgia, but it was never distributed to local emergency 911 agencies, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Cellphone carriers such as AT&T;, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon offer prepaid plans, which charge customers upfront for phones and data without a contract.

Every county in Georgia received 25 percent less than it did last year, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

The decline in funding for 911 agencies limits their ability to hire operators, reduce response times and upgrade technology.

“I’d like an explanation,” said Kenny Calhoun, the chairman of the Middle Flint Regional 911 Authority, which manages 911 services for eight Middle Georgia counties. “How does an oversight that large, with that much money, how does that occur?”

But no such explanation has been given by state officials.

The only reason provided by Georgia Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley is that the state issued a refund, reducing the amount 911 agencies thought they were owed.

A company apparently overpaid its 911 fees to the state and then filed for a refund when it found the error. Information about the refund is confidential under state taxpayer protection laws, Riley wrote in an Oct. 25 letter to the state’s 911 director. A Georgia privacy law makes tax information a state secret, so the details are not known.

The Georgia Department of Revenue declined to comment to the newspaper.

Calhoun’s agency, the Middle Flint Regional 911 Authority, received $46,688 less this year than in 2016, eliminating its ability to hire staff to improve 911 call answering times, he said.

The decline in funding for 911 agencies statewide limits their ability to hire operators, reduce response times and upgrade technology.

“We were shocked because these prepaid plans continue to grow,” said Debra Nesbit, associate legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which represents the interests of county governments. “Nobody ever imagined the amount would go down.”

The Georgia General Assembly could consider changes to state law during the upcoming session to increase accountability of 911 fees.

State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, said he hopes the General Assembly and the governor can work together on a comprehensive 911 bill that better accounts for customers’ fees and enhances 911 response.

“I’m always in favor of transparency so citizens know where the money comes from and how it’s spent. Folks deserve that,” Kennedy said. “We need to modernize our 911 system so that counties can provide this critical service.”

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Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com

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