Mattiello: Lawmakers will reassess how RI uses 911 fee after outcry

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Tuesday state lawmakers will take a fresh look at how they use money from the state’s 911 fee after a renewed outcry over how little of the money is used for the emergency system’s operations.

State Rep. Robert Lancia held a meeting Monday night where an FCC commissioner and local law-enforcement leaders discussed their concerns about the fee and the 911 system more broadly.

For years, successive governors and lawmakers have used a portion of proceeds from the 911 fee to fund other programs in the budget. State data shows the low point was 2006-07, when only $4.1 million of the $16.2 million collected from the fee was used to fund 911 operations. In 2016-17, the state used about 30% of the fee money for 911, or about $5.2 million out of $16.9 million.

Lancia, R-Cranston, has suggested the excess fee money should be redirected to beef up the 911 system. But in an interview Tuesday, Mattiello argued it could be a mistake to use all the money currently collected for that purpose.

“Just because all of the fee is not going to 911 doesn’t mean you want all of the fee going to 911,” Mattiello said. “You don’t want bloated programs.”

“Whether money is going somewhere else is independent from the 911 system being properly funded,” he added. “That’s my first and foremost concern. And then if there are excess funds, we will address that issue this term.”

Mattiello, D-Cranston, said no decisions have been made about how to change the 911 fee, but he said it’s possible it will be lowered or redesigned.

“We should not be charging 911 fees and then diverting them into the general fund,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you would take that [excess money] and put it into 911 either. So we’ll come with an appropriate plan that provides for a very safe and appropriate 911 system that serves our citizens very appropriately and we’ll also deal with the budgetary issues thereafter.”Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

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