STEPHENSON COUNTY (WIFR) – Local 911 Centers are feeling the pinch as more of us ditch our landlines for cell phones. They say if something doesn’t change soon, our safety could be at risk.
As more people are choosing to ditch their landline and just use their cell phone, it means less money in 911 budgets because the taxes on landlines are higher than on cell phones.
In 1988, Stephenson County had 35,000 landlines. The 911 center gets a $1.23 for each line, meaning that back then it was bringing in $43,050. Today, there are only 9,000 landlines and about 31,000 cell phones.
The county only gets 53 cents for each cell phone so altogether the 911 center in Stephenson County only gets $27,500.
The County sets the tax on landlines but the state sets the rate for cell phones. Stephenson County’s 9-1-1 director says unless the state steps in, our public safety could be at risk.
“At some point we’re going to have equipment that’s too old to do what I’s supposed to do and we’re not going to have any money left to replace them. So at some point in time, we have to turn this around so we’re at least running even keel and have enough money to run the system and replace the equipment as it’s needed,” said Joe Geiter with the Emergency Telephone System Board.
The $0.53 counties get is only part of a $0.73 tax on our cell phone bills. There was a bill introduced in the state legislature last session that would give counties $0.72 of that $0.73, so to be clear, counties aren’t asking for a tax increase, they just want a larger piece of the pie.
That bill was tabled. Geiter hopes to see it up for a vote next session.
This is a problem most counties, including Winnebago County are seeing. Winnebago County’s 911 coordinator says their revenue has also gradually gone down as more people choose cell phones. They would also like to see the bill passed.