SCHENECTADY COUNTY: Legislature OKs surcharge

The Schenectady County Legislature passed a local law imposing a 30-cent surcharge on all wireless phone bills in the county. The money will be used to fund a new enhanced 9-1-1 emergency system.

Schenectady County communications systems Director Bill Diman said the system needs to be updated because many emergency callers are either passing through and don't know, or are unable to say, their location. The new system will allow dispatchers to view on a digital map the location of the caller and send help immediately. The new system also allows faster response time because county dispatchers, instead of the state police, will answer wireless calls made within the county.

Diman said the enhanced system was put in place with grant money from the state, but the maintenance of the system is costly, which is why every county he can think of that accepts enhanced wireless calls has begun charging 30 cents per bill.

All legislators present at last Thursday's meeting unanimously passed the law, with Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, absent.

Robert Farley, R-Niskayuna, said although he is usually opposed to new taxes and cell phone bills are already loaded with them this new tax is necessary because it will benefit the public.

"If you are going to impose a dedicated tax, I can't think of a better reason to do so than on public safety. Our 9-1-1 system will be greatly improved, and our taxpayers will know what we are paying for," he said.

Farley also said there should be a level of accountability with this program, and if it isn't working, it should be immediately removed.

The law allows the county to charge 30 cents every month to each wireless customer whose primary use area is within Schenectady County. The law states that each wireless service provider is responsible for collecting the surcharge and giving it to the county's chief fiscal officer within 30 days of collection. Also, the wireless provider is responsible for providing the county with a bill of all money collected each year. In exchange for this administrative work, the wireless provider will keep 2 percent of all money collected.

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