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Counties pay more for 911 system

Verizon has raised its rates for the emergency 911 system in west Central Florida, leaving Pinellas and six other counties digging deeper into their pockets to cover the bigger tab.

The higher tariffs kicked in last month.

Verizon raised the tariffs 37 percent across a seven-county area to replace obsolete equipment and buy software that geographically pinpoints 911 calls from cellular phones, Verizon spokesman Bob Elek said.

The higher rates also affect Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk, Sarasota and Manatee counties, as well as part of Charlotte County.

"With the growth of wireless, there's been quite a push for people to be able to make 911 calls on wireless phones with the reasonable expectation that their location would be identified, so this is all part of that," Elek said.

In fact, Elek said, the 911 systems are required to provide that service for cell phones, under a 2001 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission.

The counties must absorb the higher cost.

The higher tariffs will cost Pinellas County about $300,000 a year, said Chuck Freeman, manager for the county's 911 center. The cost would not be passed on to residents, he said. Pinellas already charges the maximum 50-cents-a-month 911 fee allowed.

Freeman said his department will be able to absorb the added cost, using reserves set aside for a new building or for equipment.

"We may have to cut back on spending for new equipment," Freeman said. "I don't think it will hurt us to the extent that we won't be able to provide necessary service."

_ Times staff writer Michael Sandler contributed to this report. Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhallsptimes.com.

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