A Lot Of Hang-Ups On Phone Proposal

October 8, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County officials have made their call and they clearly favor a pair of 911 bills passed by the state Senate over one that has been introduced in the state House.

House Bill 4852 would amend the Emergency Telephone Service Enabling Act, which became law in 1986. It would impose a monthly fee of $1.35 on each landline and cell phone that can access a 911 system, such as the one the county operates. The fee would be added to the other charges users already pay for access to an emergency dispatch. Landlines are charged 28 cents a month, while cell phones pay 29 cents.

The House Fiscal Agency estimated the fee would raise $16.5 million in revenue each month, or just under $200 million a year. When asked how the House bill helps the county, Kent Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio offered a concise answer.

“It doesn’t,” he said.

That’s because Kent County — or any other county, for that matter — wouldn’t receive a nickel of that $200 million because all of it would go into the state’s general fund and none of it would be directly allocated for 911 operations.

Almost half of the revenue would go to the forensic division of the state police and to a new public safety communications system. The rest would go to various law enforcement agencies, with a smidgeon being awarded to the Detroit crime lab and the Bureau of Fire Services.

“4852 is not going to help us. It’s going to put us dead in the water,” said Commissioner Art Tanis.

But Senate bills 410 and 411 wouldn’t force the county to tread water. More than 80 percent of that revenue raised would go to counties — an amount the House Fiscal Agency estimated would be just under $17 million a year. Local exchange carriers would receive almost $1.6 million each year in reimbursements. In all, the Senate bills would raise about $21 million annually and would charge consumers less than the House bill.

All users — landline, cell and voice-over Internet protocol — would pay 19 cents instead of what they currently pay. Businesses with more than 10 lines would be charged for the first 10 and then for every 10th line after that.

The Senate bills would allow counties to fund dispatch systems with a millage or other funding. But the Public Service Commission would have the authority to review a county’s charge and reject an increase when the expected revenue would be 2.7 percent higher than receipts from the previous year. 

Kent County has plenty of company in opposing 4852. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Telecommunication Association of Michigan have told their members to encourage lawmakers to “hang-up” on the House bill. These groups feel the additional fee would make it more costly to conduct business in the state.

The state’s sheriffs, deputy sheriffs and police officer associations have come out against the bill, as have commissioners in Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb and Oakland counties.

HB 4582 is in the House Appropriations Committee.

The county collects a technical charge of 15 cents per month from phone bills in areas its dispatch serves. Kent turns over most of that revenue to the Grand Rapids and state police dispatches that receive 911 calls that are forwarded to the county.

But Delabbio said the county only collects its fee from landlines, and the Senate bills would add cell phones to its collection base.

“I can say unequivocally that we want the Senate bills passed, because it extends to cell phones and right now we’re limited to landlines,” he said.

The Sheriff Department’s Communications Center operates Kent County’s 911 system, which includes six police departments and 19 fire departments. The center gets $2 million a year from the county’s general fund. It received 61,655 911 calls last year.

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