911 operators sound alarm over lawmakers' plan to raid budget

BREMERTON, Wash. -- 911 operators say state budget talks are taking a devastating turn as lawmakers look to raid a fund that was set up to improve the system.

State Senators want to strip more than $15 million from a 911 fund built up through phone excise taxes. Their plan is to spend that money on other emergency programs run by state patrol and the military department.

"It could have many devastating impacts statewide," said Richard Kirton, Kitsap County's 911 director.

911 agencies say they'd been saving that tax revenue for years to pay for major upgrades, such as accepting text messages as emergency calls, only to see it snatched away by lawmakers.

"Instead the legislature comes in and says, well, since you've saved up so much money, we're just going to take some of it," Kirton said.

If the proposals go through, 911 callers could see the biggest changes in smaller counties which count on state funding to operate.

"It could mean longer waits (for help)," Kirton said. "It could also mean less training for you 911 operators."

State lawmakers say the situation isn't so dire, and even with the budgetary diversions, local agencies should still be able to respond to 911 calls normally.

A final decision on 911 funding won't be known until a state budget is passed, and that could be weeks away.