The City Council has approved billing a 50-cent monthly surcharge on each telephone line in Provo, with the added revenue earmarked to fund an upgraded 911 emergency phone system.

Utah County is waiting to see how many other city councils approve the billing of the surcharge on local phone lines before approaching the Utah Public Service Commission for permission to collect the additional revenue.County commissioners have said a county-wide enhanced 911, or E-911, system could be operative within two years if cities are willing to approve the surcharge to provide start-up funding.

The unanimous council vote makes Provo the first Utah County city to approve the surcharge. Councils in other cities are expected to vote on the issue in coming weeks.

The E-911 system, already in use in Weber County and being installed in Salt Lake and Davis counties, offers a major advantage over 911 technology now used in Utah County.

E-911 uses computers to lock in and trace incoming calls made to the 911 emergency number. The address and phone number where the call originates are displayed on a computer screen as soon as the dispatcher answers the call.

Law enforcement officials say the enhanced system would allow them to respond immediately to any emergency call, even when a caller - like a small child or a non-English speaker - can't tell the dispatcher the address where the emergency is occurring.

The existing 911 system does not have that capability, and valuable response time can be lost while emergency personnel search for an incorrect address.

Estimates of E-911 start-up costs are about $200,000 for computer equipment and telephone lines, and an additional $500,000 for each dispatch center on the system. Between two and five dispatch centers have been proposed.

If the surcharge were placed on all phone lines in Utah County, almost $38,000 a month could be raised toward start-up costs. Even so, the county would have to collect the surcharge for two years before the needed start-up funding could be accumulated.

After the system was installed, the surcharge would drop to about 38 cents per month per phone line to fund the $30,000 monthly maintenance bill.

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But not all cities may approve the billing of the surcharge, and that complicates matters. Of the 20 cities in Utah County, only Provo and Orem have enough phone lines to fund installation and operation of the system and the needed dispatch centers using only surcharge revenue.

If not enough cities approve the surcharge so a county-wide E-911 system can be established, Provo and Orem could still proceed. Smaller cities then would have three options: join the Provo or Orem systems; band together and form an interlocal cooperative with the county to establish their own system; or forego E-911 service.

Officials in both Provo and Orem have indicated a willingness to go at it alone with the E-911 system if smaller cities aren't willing to approve the surcharge.

It's clear that to join the Provo and Orem systems, smaller cities would have to approve the surcharge because residents of the two larger cities are unlikely to agree to subsidize E-911 service to smaller communities.

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