House approves monthly fee on cell phones
Under a measure the Kansas House approved last week, cellular telephone users would be charged a 75-cent fee.
That's good news, according to Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County emergency management coordinator.
The proceeds from the tax, if it's approved by the Kansas Senate, would be used to help pay for upgrades to the 911 system that Leavenworth County uses.
Presently, when cellular phone customers dial 911, dispatchers have no idea where they are.
"It doesn't tell what the name is, what an address is," Magaha said. "It's a guessing game."
If a location is provided, it is the address of the cell tower that the phone call was transmitted from.
With the increased use of cell phones, Magaha said upgrades to the 911 system are imperative. To underline that contention, he cites the example of a woman who ran off the Kansas Turnpike near Bonner Springs. She'd gone down an embankment and hit a tree. She called emergency personnel on her cellular phone, but they couldn't find her before she died.
"They weren't very far from where she was," Magaha said.
Leavenworth County is among seven counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area that have an agreement over the use of 911.
The seven-county group hopes that by October software and hardware upgrades to the wireless 911 system will mean that dispatchers will have cell phone users' names and addresses, and a system to track users' location.
"If for some reason they would lose you, they would be able to find you," Magaha said.
The total cost will run about $4 million, and Magaha said the wireless tax would help finance that.
If the Legislature doesn't approve the cellular phone tax, Magaha said, by the end of next year, the county would be running about $22,000 in the red trying to support the existing 911 structure, as well as the upgrades.
Presently, telephone utility companies charge a 75 cent tax to help finance 911 systems for traditional telephones.
"What happens is we, Leavenworth County, have to come up with additional monies to support this project so we can continue serving the people," Magaha said.
He estimated that 40 percent of 911 calls come from wireless telephones.
Under the bill that the House approved, a charge of up to 75 cents would be tacked onto each monthly cellular telephone bill.
The measure, passed on a 74-49 vote, now proceeds to the state Senate for action.
Rep. Ken Wilk, R-Bonner Springs, was among those House members voting against the measure. Wilk said that although 75 cents doesn't sound like a lot of money, it could add up, especially if families have more than one telephone.
He supports a fee to help enhance 911 services, but believes 75 cents is too high.
"I've got a lot of people complaining to me about the taxes that are on their utility bills today," Wilk said. "And now we're talking about adding more."