A monthly fee of $1 on landlines and cell phones will help fund 911 emergency services.

Voters to decide on cell phone tax to benefit 911 services

Question 1: With fewer landlines to tax for 911 services, the state considers tax on cell phones

By John Sharp

Jackson County voters are being asked to replace the current 7% tax on landlines to support the 911 emergency calling service with a monthly fee not to exceed $1 on both landlines and cell phones.

Eric Winebrenner, the public safety program director for the Mid-America Regional Council that operates the metropolitan 911 system, said about 83% of 911 calls in the region now come in from cell phones, but in Jackson County only persons and businesses that still have landlines are required to pay for the service, and the number of persons with landlines is shrinking every year.

“We’re not being fair to our senior citizens and low income persons who make up the majority of persons who still have landlines by making them bear the entire burden of supporting the 911 system,” said Jason White, the emergency medical services representative on the State 911 Service Board who lives in Jackson County.

The proposed new fee is expected to be significantly less than most persons with landlines are now paying.  Members of the Jackson County Legislature voted unanimously to submit it for voter approval.

The state legislation that passed in 2019 that allows jurisdictions with a 911 tax only on landlines to replace it with a monthly fee of up to $1 on both landlines and any wireless lines capable of contacting 911 does require that the tax only on landlines be dropped if the new monthly charge is approved.  Jurisdictions cannot levy both charges, although that is not mentioned in the ballot language.

Jackson County Treasurer John Gordon said the money the county receives from its current 7% tax on landlines has been going down for years and is insufficient to pay the county’s share of the cost of operating and maintaining the regional 911 system, forcing it to dip into other funds to meet its obligations to support the system.

Funds from the proposed monthly charge will not be allowed to be comingled with general funds of the county and can only be used to support the 911 system.  A fact sheet prepared by the county said the new funding mechanism, “Would allow Jackson County to continue to make critical improvements and investments in the 911 system to keep up with changing mobile phone technology.”

If approved the replacement funding structure will go into effect on April 1, 2021.

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