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County proposes cell phone user fee
March 17, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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Under a proposal from Scotts Bluff County Communications, cell phone users might be asked to pay a new three percent “cell phone user fee” to help support 911 service in the area.

Communications director Ray Richards outlined the proposal to members of the Gering City Council during their regular Monday meeting.

Richards told council members the added fee was needed to help support enhanced 911 service to the area. When the communications center was first organized, it was serving seven local and state agencies and answering about 30 calls a day.

Today, the communications center provides service not only to Scotts Bluff County, but also to the southern half of Sioux County and the northern half of Banner County. The service has expanded to 52 agencies and receives in excess of 1,000 calls a day.

The communications center’s annual budget is now just under $1 million a year.

Richards told the council the area’s size and resident mobility are major factors in the need for enhanced 911 services. One out of every two people has a cell phone and the number of land lines is shrinking. As a result, the communications center is answering more calls made from cell phones and other mobile devices.

The proposal would assess the three percent user fee based on zip code. If Gering passed the resolution, Terrytown would be included, as it has the same zip code as Gering. Richards said he will also be approaching the Scottsbluff City Council to ask them to pass a resolution approving the user fee.

The user fee could potentially generate $120,000 in annual revenue. Cell phone providers would collect the fee, which would be earmarked to help support the Scotts Bluff County Communications Center. Other communities have adopted similar taxes on telecommunications devices in the past, although many of them have used the money to bolster their city budgets.

Richards said he has met with mayors of both cities and they discussed the possibility of a user fee to help support the communications center.

But council member Larry Gibbs wasn’t convinced at Monday’s council meeting. He said when Scottsbluff agreed to join Gering and the county in a combined communications center, the county agreed to fund it. While he wasn’t totally against the proposal, Gibbs wondered whether it would lead to future tax askings. He said that a county commitment should stay a county commitment.

Richards also told the council the communications center is in the process of moving into larger quarters in the basement of the Scotts Bluff County Administrative Building. The center will be relocated in the former emergency operations center and should be operational within the next 10 days to two weeks.
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