Steuben County leaders are voicing their strong approval of the Federal Communications Commission’s stern warning regarding New York’s misuse of cell phone fees intended by law to pay for 911 center operations.
New York puts more than 90 percent of the landline and cell phone fees — roughly $171 million – into the state‟s general fund, and passes out the remaining money as grants to counties to upgrade essential equipment, according to a recent report by the FCC.
Diverting the fees to pay for other state costs endangers the public safety and prevents 911 centers from providing reliable services to the public, according to FCC Commissioner Mike Rielly.
In a letter sent in April to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the governors of two other states, Rielly said the action damages the public‟s confidence and seriously reduces the money 911 centers receive.
“The vast majority of funding did not go to 911 related purposes and a mere $10 million of the $75 million in the state’s various public safety grants go to 911 centers,” Rielly said.
New York’ s misuse of phone fees forces counties to boost property taxes to pay for basic needs and prevents centers from receiving significant federal funds, he reported.
The loss of phone fees has been an issue in Steuben County for years. President of the New York State National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Chapter and the director of Steuben
County 911, Dave Hopkins has lobbied in Albany and Washington, D.C. for years to receive the funds the Steuben and other counties deserve by law.
“We urge the Governor and State Legislature to reconsider their flawed policy of keeping the vast majority of public safety telephone surcharges, as noted by the FCC Commissioner,” said County Manager Jack Wheeler. “Counties desperately need these funds to maintain their 911 systems and emergency communication equipment.”
Steuben leaders urge county residents to contact their state representatives in support of the FCC report and restore all phone surcharges to 911 centers