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Give counties bigger share

June 14, 2012
The Leader Herald

Fulton County government says the state is taking too much of the surcharge it assesses cellphone users. The county is right.

The state Legislature in 1991 enacted a monthly surcharge of 70 cents on each cellphone bill and later increased the amount to $1.20 per cellphone.

The state imposed the fee to raise money to upgrade 911 technology to help dispatchers find people calling from cellphones in emergencies.

Counties, however, receive only a small portion from the surcharge, and the state is using some of the money for other purposes.

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead says the state collected about $1.2 billion in wireless surcharge money since 1994. He said $192 million was collected in 2011, and of that figure, only $9.3 million went back to localities for their 911 systems. He said $95 million went into the state's general fund, $25.5 million went to state police and $51 million was allocated in other ways. The county receives about $26,000 per year from the surcharge, down about $4,000 from two years ago.

A bill in the state Legislature would require 58 percent of 911 wireless surcharge money be used for communications systems, including 911. The remaining 42 percent would be used for miscellaneous state expenses. The county Board of Supervisors this week passed a resolution urging approval.

The resolution stated the state proposal would "ensure that local governments receive the funds necessary to upgrade 911 call centers and maintain emergency dispatch center operations in the name of public safety."

Localities deserve a bigger share of the surcharge money. Other counties should join Fulton County in pressing the state Legislature to approve the proposal.



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