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Polk County's emergency system may face a budget deficit in 2014

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POLK COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Polk County is facing a potential half a million dollar budget deficit next year for 911 emergency call service if prepaid cell phone users do not start paying 911 fees, county officials told us.

Typically, a phone user pays for emergency call services on landlines and contracted wireless phones. If you use a prepaid cell and pay monthly, the payment doesn't include the fee.

Currently two bills and a moratorium are circulating through the Florida legislature that would require the 911 fee to kick in for prepaid users starting November 2013. The bills face opposition, including Governor Scott's, who calls this a new "tax," county officials said.

Polk County 911 system manager Sally Jackson told us, the emergency fee funds will help pay for the existing emergency services and the new technology, Next Generation 911.

She explained the new system would allow operators to transfer information about the caller from county to county and to exchange emergency text messages. Major cell service providers will start offering those in 2014.

"Requiring all wireless telephone providers to collect the fee assures county governments that we can maintain or improve our current 911 service without potentially shifting the burden to the county's general fund to make up for the loss," she said.

According to Polk County reports, 70% of all answered 911 calls in the county in 2012 were from wireless phones, almost half from prepaid devices. 

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