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Council tables action on phone tax
January 17, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Members of the Gering City Council have tabled a proposed ordinance that would place a three percent occupation tax on telephone and telecommunications companies.
The tax, estimated to generate around $60,000 annually, would help the city pay for its share of needed upgrades to the county’s enhanced 911 system.

Some initial confusion over the wording of the ordinance happened when “taxpayer” was defined as “all telephone companies and mobile telecommunications services,” not individual cell phone users.
Benjamin Backus, broadband services manager for Action Communication, told the council that if the ordinance were passed, the three percent tax would only be added to the monthly bill of each cell phone or land line user.

“This is a regressive tax,” Backus said. “It will hit lower income people the hardest.”
Backus also objected to ordinance wording that placed the tax on both “one-way and two-way wireless communications services.” He said satellite television and pager service could be considered one-way communication, leaving a loophole for the tax to be applied in those areas.

“The main problem I have is that you’re trying to sneak in another tax,” Backus said. “If you’re going to tax cell phone users, do it. Maybe there are other areas where you can raise this money.”
The tax would be levied on wireless companies for customers only in the Gering area. Matt Larsen of Vistabeam said the tax would be a logistical nightmare for his company to comply with billing, which would raise customer rates even more.

“We’ve been dealing with this for some time but we have to figure out with some way to pay for enhanced 911 service,” said council member Larry Gibbs.
Council member Jill McFarland said they proposed the cell phone tax because of decreasing tax revenues as more and more people discontinue their land line phone service. She added that enhanced 911 became necessary as more incoming calls are from cell phones.
Before it can be passed, the ordinance will need three readings. The first was at Monday’s council meeting. Members voted to table the measure, saying the wording needed to be cleaned up and clarified.

After the meeting, Backus said he hoped the proposed ordinance would help generate more opposition to the measure. He also encouraged the council to look at other options to help the city pay for enhanced 911 services from the county.

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