Increase in phone bills will aid emergency response

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It costs the Kenai Peninsula Borough much more to operate its emergency communications system than it receives from a surcharge telephone users pay as part of their monthly phone bills.

To correct that, phone bills are very likely to increase slightly in the near future.

The borough assembly is considering an ordinance to raise the current surcharge of 75 cents a month to $1.15. While the enhanced 911 system (E911) fee increase is not much, the revenue generated would be significant.

According to Scott Walden, director of the Office of Emergency Management, the current surcharge generates annual revenue of about $475,000. Fees paid to the borough by Central Emergency Services, the Nikiski Fire Department and the city of Soldotna add another $195,000 for a total E911 revenue of $670,000.

However, it costs $948,500 to operate the system, a shortfall of $278,500, Walden told the assembly in a January memo.

The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing at the March 14 assembly meeting in Soldotna.

State lawmakers last year approved legislation allowing an increase in the E911 surcharge up to $2 per month. The borough only needs a boost of 40 cents to make ends meet, Walden said.

State law requires municipal governments to review the E911 surcharge annually to determine if it is adequate, insufficient or excessive, Walden noted.

Terry Eubank, borough controller, said that Homer and Seward have their own dispatch services, thus do not pay the E911 fee. Though 911 calls originating in those cities funnel through the central location in Soldotna, they are then forwarded to Homer and Seward dispatchers.

The surcharge fee is levied on each local exchange access telephone line within the borough, and billed and collected by the phone company. It applies to cellular phones, too. The revenue is used exclusively for funding the E911 system.

If adopted as written, the surcharge increase would become effective May 1, 2006.

The measure is ordinance 2006-06.

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