County officials face challenges in increasing E911 cellphone fees

2011-07-04T14:30:00Z 2014-01-04T18:03:15Z County officials face challenges in increasing E911 cellphone feesBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

The E911 fee on contract-based cellphones, which Porter County officials hope to see increased to cover a budget shortfall in the local system, can be raised by no more than 7 cents a year under current state law.

That decision is up to the Indiana Wireless Enhanced 911 Board, which has not increased the monthly fee since it was formed in 1998, Executive Director Barry Ritter said.

While the monthly fee on contract-based cellphones is currently 50 cents, only 25 cents a month is being charged for prepaid phones and cards, which is the quickest growing segment of the wireless market, Ritter said.

State lawmakers have control over the amount of the prepaid fee but only are able to change the potential range for the contract-based cell fee, he said. There also are other fees in place for the lesser used Internet and vehicle-based emergency call systems.

Several of the area's state lawmakers said they are willing to consider increasing the cellphone fees with limits on the potential use of the proceeds. But Ritter said the proceeds never were intended to fully support a local 911 system. The idea was to help local units of government transition their already-funded dispatcher centers for use with 911.

Porter County received $468,198 in E911 cellphone revenues for the state's fiscal year of 2011, which ended Thursday, Ritter said.

Ritter said his board, along with the Association of Indiana Counties and Indiana Sheriff's Association, have been seeking parity among the E911 fees, including the fee charged on land line telephones. Porter County currently charges $1.50 a month on land lines.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who co-authored the consolidation legislation resulting in Portage and Valparaiso turning over their E911 systems to the county, said Porter County officials can help enact the cellphone fee increases if they work together.

The local system began running in the red when it hired Valparaiso's five dispatchers in 2008, and the problem worsened a year later when eight dispatchers from Portage were added, Director David Sheibels has said.

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