CLEVELAND, BRADLEY COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)-- The Bradley County 911 Center is losing money, and if officials don't come up with a way to make some fast, the state could take over operations.
Emergency, city and county leaders met Friday to come up with ideas to keep the 911 center afloat financially. For the last two years, it's spent more than it's bringing in. The big reason behind the loss is cell phones.
"It's very, very important that this 911 center continues operations without having to cut services and without having to cut the quality of service," Bradley County 911 Director Joe Wilson says.
Wilson says an overwhelming increase in calls coming from cell phones the last couple of years instead of land lines has caused the center to lose major money.
They've already had to make cuts to personnel and equipment and really don't want to make more, because it's ultimately public safety at risk.
"We are at the maximum we can charge land line users at $1.50," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland says.
Land line fees go straight to the county. Cell phone fees are less, they go to the state instead, and in many cases, they say aren't even paid by the cell phone providers.
Other revenue the county misses out on is when 911 calls come in the center from free cell phones issued by the government to low income families. They say that makes up a large volume of calls, but they don't make a penny off of them.
If the county has one more year in the red, the state can takeover operations and scale back even more.
"That's not something we in Bradley County and Cleveland want to face," Mayor Rowland says.
"We want to increase funding where we can stay above water," Wilson says.
The 911 center is asking the county and cities of Cleveland and Charleston to pitch in more than $300,000 extra to stay afloat, but that would be a band-aid.
They say to solve the problem, they're pushing for legislation that would increase cell phone fees, give them straight to the county and penalize providers they say haven't been paying up.
The Bradley County Commission, and Cleveland and Charleston city councils still have to vote on if they'll give 911 services the extra money to avoid state takeover.
Local leaders are meeting with legislators next week to discuss those long-term changes for cell phone fees.
They're also asking other "at risk" counties, like Hamilton County, for ideas.
Roughly a third of the counties in the state are in the same situation as Bradley County.