Arundel OKs a 911 tax on cellular telephones Council also amends county executive's plan to reform pensions

October 18, 1995|By JOHN A. MORRIS | JOHN A. MORRIS,SUN STAFF

Using a car phone in Anne Arundel County just got a little more expensive.

On Monday, the county became the fourth Maryland jurisdiction, including Baltimore, to approve a tax on cellular telephones to finance the 911 emergency communication system.

The 50-cent fee unanimously approved by the County Council will appear on cellular customers' monthly telephone bills starting Jan. 1. Land-wired telephone customers have paid a similar 911 tax since the mid-1980s. The fee will be collected each month and will not be based on how many 911 calls a customer makes.

Also Monday, the council amended by 5-2 a pension reform plan by County Executive John G. Gary and rolled back the benefits of 17 additional retired elected and appointed officials.

Mr. Gary has proposed repealing portions of a 1989 law that lowered the retirement age to 50 and increased the benefits by 25 percent for 58 officials. Mr. Gary said the change would save $4 million.

The lawmakers' amendment would repeal another provision of the 1989 law that raised the minimum monthly benefit from $100 to $400.

Councilman James "Ed" DeGrange, a Glen Burnie Democrat and the amendment's sponsor, said the increase in the minimum benefit was an unfair "windfall" for the former officials.

The council could formally vote on the reform at its Nov. 6 meeting.

Cellular telephones, which have soared in popularity in recent years, account for 20 percent of the emergency calls received at Anne Arundel County's 911 emergency dispatch center, said Diane Hutchins, an aide to Mr. Gary. The county receives nearly 700 fire and police calls a day.

No one contemplated cellular technology when the original 911 tax was approved a decade ago, Ms. Hutchins said. Industry officials estimate that about 6 percent of the county's households that have land-wired telephones also have cellular phones, she said.

Based on that estimate, Ms. Hutchins said the new tax could raise about $300,000 a year to pay for 911 operators' salaries and to upgrade equipment. The county spends about $3.7 million a year on the emergency dispatch system.

Unlike land-wired phones, cellular phones do not automatically signal to emergency dispatchers the location of the caller, said county police Lt. Gordie Deans. That makes the dispatcher's job more difficult.

The additional money could be used to purchase better equipment to help dispatchers by recording incoming calls, Lieutenant Deans said.

Eventually, he said, the money might be used to buy equipment that relies on satellites to pinpoint a cellular caller's location.

The General Assembly first authorized Baltimore and the counties collect a 911 fee in 1985. It extended the law to include cellular phones last spring.

In addition to Baltimore and Anne Arundel County, Harford and Howard counties have extended the 50-cent tax to cellular customers.

The state Emergency System Numbers Board is set to collect a separate 911 fee from land-wired and cellular telephone customers beginning Jan. 1. The state fee will be 10 cents a month.

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