Did State budget cuts add to Tucson's 911 troubles?

CREATED Jul 18, 2011

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Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Did state budget cuts help saddle the City of Tucson with a new 911 system so full of bugs that critics call it life threatening?

Nine On Your Side wants to know.

City of Tucson's 911 system was getting so old it was getting hard to replace parts, but when the city replaced the whole thing a few weeks ago, it didn't wait until the new system's bugs were ironed out---so many bugs, the system's been blamed for delays that slowed down medical treatment for a young girl, who later died.
In a previous 9 On Your Side story, former dispatcher Carla Reece suggested the state of Arizona's hurting 911 systems statewide by closing it's budget gap by moving millions from a special tax fund for 911 systems.

She said, "The 911 infrastructure itself is suffering, no centers can upgrade their equipment as it was scheduled.  Even the maintenance cost of the system itself may not be covered with what's left in that fund and the revenue that's coming in."

State Senator Frank Antenori checked into where that money went.  He says Arizona's not starving any 911 system out of the usual state support.

"I spoke with ADOA (Arizona Department of Administration) today which administers the 911 Telecommunications Fund.  I spoke with budget people.  They handed out the exact same number of grants that they hand out every year.  They had 12 million dollars left over.  There was plenty of money in the fund so it had no impact on the grant process that was given to the city of Tucson."

Antenori says Tucson actually requested money for the new system in 2008 and got it in 2009 before some of the stiffest budget cuts.
Councilman Steve Kozachik has been trying to find out why Tucson shut down and tore out the old system before it was sure the new one was working.  He thinks the trouble rests with the city, not the state.

"We should have tested this system out before we took out old system off line.  We should have taken it through the beta testing, worked out all of the kinks before we went live with it.  We didn't do it.  That's on us.  That's not on the state."

The state money comes from a twenty cent tax on your phone bills.  Starting in Fiscal Year 2009 the state began transferring money out of that fund that will total more than 37 million dollars by the end of Fiscal 2012, but again, Senator Antenori's sources say the state payment to help with the new system was in Tucson's hands before most of that transfer.

City manager Mike Letcher has said repeatedly the system can be trusted.