Taxpayers now covering cost of emergency alerts - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Taxpayers now covering cost of emergency alerts

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FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ill. -- A service used by many counties in our area to alert residents will now cost taxpayers.

The emergency serviced called Nixle sends out messages like weather advisories and traffic accidents to anyone who's signed up. 

Messages like alerts of tornado warnings, advisories for a weather watch and community events. 

Nixle used to send all these messages for free over text, but in Sept., it sent out an email to agencies and counties using the service saying the cost of sending text messages has gone up so the company now needs to cover the cost. 

Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Ryan Buckingham is dealing with a $5,000 expense that his team wasn't ready for. 

"I log into the Nixle system and there is a banner up at the top that said, be advised come Dec. 17, no more advisory messages will be sent," Buckingham said. 

Buckingham received the email back in Sept. from Nixle that said alerts would still be sent for free, but SMS text messages for community and advisory messages would need to be paid for because of increased carrier SMS costs. 

"It's one of those situations where you do understand the position of the company and they have to be able to survive," Buckingham said. "We have enjoyed the system for almost a decade for free, however, it's always a concern how it's going to fit into the budget and how we are going to be able to finance it."

The email went out nation wide, telling agencies or municipalities if they want to continue with this service, they must pay $4,800 annually. 

"With the amount of advisories we send out, it wasn't a question," Buckingham said. "We knew we had to continue with it. It's difficult when you have unforeseen expenses happen, luckily we have had some partners who have stepped up and offered to help with the bill."

One of those partners is West Frankfort. During Tuesday night's council meeting, Mayor Tom Jordan and council members agreed to pay for a portion of the service.

"Emergency management is in our budget but we don't have an emergency management director," Jordan said. "Instead of hearing a siren, people today can get an alert on their phone and they always seem to have that with them."

Going forward, Buckingham said this type of expense will be budgeted for. 

"We have to look at prioritizing things and making the best out of tax payers dollars," Buckingham said. "We are going to continue to do that but this item is a priority item and it has to be maintained."

Buckingham said since they started paying for the Nixle service, the National Weather Service will automatically send out emails and text messages alerting residents of bad weather. Beforehand, Franklin County EMA sent out the alerts themselves.

It's free to sign up for the service in your community. Just text your zip code to 888-777. 

Click here to visit the Nixle website. 

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