County Looks to Create New Cell Phone Fee

5:53 PM, Oct 3, 2012   |    comments
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LOCKPORT, N.Y. - If you've ever looked at your cell phone bill, you've probably noticed that each month you pay the state a surcharge that's supposed to pay for maintenance and upgrades to 911 services.

But, as we all know around here, sometimes government works in funny ways.

That $1.20 surcharge isn't even used for 911 services.

Instead, it's swept into New York's General Fund and used for routine expenses.

Now, legislators in Niagara County want some cell phone users to pay even more and direct the increase to it's intended purpose.

For the past decade, the fee to the state for cell phone plans has not been going to the right place, which is 911 centers. Many lawmakers on the county legislature say as a result of this, the county's 911 center has some resources that are limited and there's outdated equipment.

To change this, lawmaker Paul Wojtaszek of the county's 9th District, wants to impose an extra fee - 30 cents on pre-paid cell phones in the county.

Some state lawmakers that serve western New York think the proposal will hurt people of low income.

"No I wouldn't agree with adding an additional fee on. We already have a $1.20," said Assemblyman Raymond Walter (R-148th).

Counties need permission from the state to impose this surcharge.

Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R-142nd) said, "People in [these] communities have a hard time getting cell phone plans, so I think it's really important that we not institute a new tax."

Wojtaszek, the sponsor of the bill says that all counties are missing out on millions of dollars, because lawmakers have been diverting cell phone surcharge money for years to pay for things in the state's general budget. He says 911 centers have been getting state grants, but that having funds from the cell phone fee would be much more.

But, in this case, they're targeting pre-paid cell phone users, who typically have lower incomes.

2 On Your Side questioned Wojtaszek if the county can find other places to pay for 911 services and not ask for more from more disadvantaged people.

Wojtaszek responded, "Yeah, for the state to give us our fair share of the 911 surcharge that they're collecting right now." He says "if we were going to get more from the state as the intention of that 911 surcharge was then we could probably dispense with pass our own local law."

Still, some want the county to look elsewhere to pay for these critical services. This includes cell phone users like Bill Sweet of Lockport. Although the fee may be small, Sweet lives off on social security and needs every penny.

"Just don't do it. We're having a hard enough time as it is, we don't need another fee tacked onto what we have to pay for," he said.





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