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News : York County Commissioners Back Bill to Increase 911 Phone Fee
York, PA, USA April 22, 2015 -- A bill that would increase telephone surcharges for 911 would help offset the escalating costs to operate York County's call center, officials said.
Proponents say the fee hike is needed because of the increased popularity of cellphones, which are charged a lower fee than landline phones.
Under the bill, aptly numbered House Bill 911, the surcharge, tacked onto monthly phone bills, would jump to a flat $1.65.
Cellphone users and those with voice-over-Internet protocol calling services across the state currently pay a $1 surcharge, while landline users in York County pay $1.25 per month. The surcharge for landlines varies from county to county.
On an individual basis, the proposed increase may not seem like a huge jump, but when lumped together, it would mean big bucks for counties, such as York, that have had to dip into their general funds to operate 911 centers as fee revenue dwindles.
"I think it's sorely needed that the state increase funding for 911 centers," said Doug Hoke, the vice president commissioner.
Decreased revenue: The proliferation of wireless and voice-over-Internet protocol phone customers, who pay less than traditional landline phone users, and the gradual reduction in the number of those traditional phones has eaten away at the revenue that counties use to build, maintain and upgrade 911 technology.
"We're seen a drastic decrease of landlines," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Delaware County, adding that that has led to decreased fee revenue.
For example, in 2002 York County used $318,688 from its general fund to cover costs to run its 911 center, but in 2015, the county expects that figure will balloon to $6.3 million.
The increase doesn't include costs to pay for capital improvements, such as radio and other 911 upgrades, said Carl Lindquist, county spokesman.
Statewide, 10 years ago, the fees amounted to $173 million of the $192 million in allowable costs the counties were spending to run the centers. By last year, the fees were bringing in $188 million but the total cost had risen to $292 million.
A large component of the fees, from wireless customers, will expire at the end of June if the General Assembly does not act.
The popularity of cellphones, while bringing in monthly fees but at a lower rate, has also been expensive, requiring counties to purchase costly "enhanced 911" equipment to locate the source of cellphone calls for help. It has also created an influx of calls from motorists and others to report emergency situations.
If signed into law, this would be the first increase of the surcharge since 1990, Barrar said.
Revenue increase: Barrar said that at $1.65, the fee should help counties accumulate a modest surplus to fund future costs. It would bring total 911 fee revenue to about $300 million.
The state would collect and distribute the fees according to a formula that would take into account population, call volume and other factors. The bill would set standards across county lines and encourage cooperation, among other things.
But opponents of the bill say the increase is too much for some users.
In a letter sent to legislators on Tuesday, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said wireless and voice-over-Internet protocol users would see a "disproportionately high" increase of 65 percent over what they pay now.
However, Steve Chronister, the president commissioner, said he thinks a fee increase is needed.
"All of us are probably going to use the (911) service at some point," he said.
Commissioner Chris Reilly said the 911 center should be "user funded" and that the fees should be increased.
"I think we need to create more parity between the cost of operations and what (phone customers) are paying," he said.
911 center funding: Here's a look at what York County had to spend from its general fund to operate the 911 center:
•2005: $2.5 million
•2006: $5.2 million
•2007: $4 million
•2008: $4 million
•2009: $3.5 million
•2010: $4.4 million
•2011: $6 million
•2012: $5.7 million
•2013: $6.4 million
•2014 estimate: $4.3 million*
•2015 budgeted: $6.3 million
*The county received approximately $2 million in unanticipated revenue from the state, allowing the county to decrease its 2014 subsidy. The county anticipates a drop in state revenue of about $1 million and a $1 million increase in expenses in 2015.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About York County:
York County is a county in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the population was 434,972. Its county seat is York.
Published: Thursday, April 23, 2015