People in the Kansas City area call 911 nearly 1.7 million times a
Three-quarters of those calls are made on wireless phones, and a lot of them have to do with life-or-death situations.
Guess who doesn't pay for the 911 system?
That's right. On the Missouri side, cellphone users get a free ride while businesses and people with old-fashioned landlines pick up the tab.
In fact, Missouri is the only state in the country where cellphone users still do not pay a surcharge for 911.
"It's pretty disheartening," said Steve Westermann, chief of the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District.
Missouri voters have twice rejected a statewide fee for 911 on wireless phones. This year, supporters pushed a bill to let most counties decide whether to ask their own voters to approve a charge. The bill passed the Missouri House, but the session ended before the Senate got to it.
"This year was probably our best chance," said Keith Faddis, public safety program director for the Mid-America Regional Council, which coordinates 911 service in a nine-county area that straddles the state line.
As the number of landlines dwindles -- an estimated 36 percent of U.S. households now have only wireless telephone service -- they are generating less tax revenue.
In many counties, it's not enough to pay for the 911 service, so those counties must subsidize 911 from other funds.
In Platte County, the 911 surcharge generated $191,305 in 2012, but the operating budget for 911 was just over $1 million, a difference of nearly $818,000.
In Clay County, the surcharge brought in $391,514, but the system cost nearly $519,000.
"When I have to spend money on that, then I don't have money, possibly, to give the sheriff for a drug program or a highway safety program," said Pam Mason, Clay County presiding commissioner.
It's a weekday afternoon, approaching rush hour, and some driver does a stupid thing on Blue Ridge Cutoff at Interstate 70.
Within moments, a person sitting before a bank of monitors in a darkened room at 12th and Locust streets knows about it. She's a 911 call-taker in Kansas City, the largest of 44 call centers in the area.
One screen instantly indicates that the signal is coming from a wireless device. The location is pinpointed on a map either through GPS or triangulation of the signal bouncing off cellular towers. The latitude and longitude are noted. The call-taker can follow the device if it is in a moving car.
A second screen is a computer-assisted dispatch, or CAD. It notifies dispatchers on the other side of the room if police need to respond or sends the call to the fire department if an ambulance is needed. A third screen can call up other data, including current 911 activity in the vicinity in case some calls may be related.
There are 7,000 cellphone sectors in this area, and each call is directed to the appropriate 911 call center and the whole region is interconnected.
Calls to 911 from wireless phones have climbed from less than 60 percent in 2008 to more than 75 percent of the total in the region.
"Everybody has a cellphone," said Jeane Rast, supervisor at the Kansas City call center, "so they're all calling us about an accident on the freeway during rush
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