Fee sought on cellular service to offset 911 operation expense

October 06, 1995|By JOHN A. MORRIS | JOHN A. MORRIS,SUN STAFF

Operating a cellular telephone in Anne Arundel County would get a little more expensive under a plan unveiled by county officials yesterday.

County Executive John G. Gary wants to collect up to $6 a year from each cellular customer to finance the operation and expansion of Anne Arundel's 911 emergency dispatch system, said Diane Hutchins, the executive's governmental relations officer.

Mr. Gary hopes to take advantage of a state law, approved in April, that allows Baltimore and the counties to charge cellular and other wireless customers 50 cents every month to offset the cost of their 911 systems, she said. The county spends about $3.7 million a year on 911 service.

A bill authorizing the fee in Anne Arundel is pending before the County Council and could be voted on Oct. 16. Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore already have announced they will impose a similar fee when the state law goes into effect Jan. 1, 1996. The state also is set to collect 10 cents a month.

Several council members expressed reservations about the fee yesterday. "It's still a tax," said Councilman William Mulford, an Annapolis Republican.

Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat, said administration officials have not specified how much money the fee will raise or how much additional money the 911 system needs.

"If we don't know what the enhancements will cost us, it's kind of like writing a blank check, isn't it?" Mr. Bachman asked. "We're saying, 'Here's the money, go out and spend it.' "

Ms. Hutchins said the county does not know how much money the fee will generate because no one knows how many cellular customers are based in Anne Arundel. State law allows the telephone companies, which opposed the fee in the General Assembly, to keep that information confidential, she said. Only state officials who collect the fees will know.

The Maryland Association of Counties estimated last spring the fee would generate about $1.2 million statewide. Harford officials estimated last month the fee would generate about $100,000 a year in that county.

Ms. Hutchins said it is important to remember that consumers with land-line telephone service already pay monthly 911 fees to the state and counties.

About 200,600 county land-line subscribers generate about $1.6 million annually, said Bill Taylor, telecommunications head for Anne Arundel government.

He said the new fee was conceived, in part, on the position that wireless customers should pay the same charges land-line customers do. Already, he said, they compete with land-line users for 911 services.

"Today, the wireless subscribers are getting a free ride when it comes to processing the calls," Mr. Taylor said.

Opposition from the cellular telephone companies is not expected, Ms. Hutchins said.

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