County Seeks Additional Wireless Revenues To Develop Statewide Communications Network

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego County is looking for the state’s cooperation in the development of a new comprehensive statewide interoperable communication network.

To do that, a resolution has been presented, asking the state to tap the funding that is already collected through a Wireless Communications Service surcharge that the state imposes on cellular telephone bills.

Michael Allen, director of Oswego County’s E-911 department, brought the resolution to the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee this week, detailing the request.

Allen explained that with the additional state funding and a greater state and inter-municipal collaboration, counties can partner with the Office for Technology and other state agencies to expand and tie together the existing infrastructure to build a statewide communications system.

“The resolution is looking for a new way of distributing the $1.20 that is already collected,” Allen explained.

Of the $1.20 that New York State collects per bill for a wireless 911 surcharge, Allen said less than 6-cents is currently returned to counties.

“I believe that should change,” he said. “NYSAC (the New York State Association of Counties) believes that should change.”

Allen noted that a 35-cent fee on telephone landlines is distributed back to counties. However, as more people move away from landline telephones and toward cellular phones, the money that counties receive is diminishing.

“We are losing that revenue,” he said.

Meantime, Allen said that the state is using the wireless surcharge for everything but wireless 911 efforts. The committee hosted a lengthy discussion about that during a meeting in September.

“Most goes into the general fund,” Allen said. “A lot goes into the statewide wireless network, which is all but defunct.” According to reports, the revenue is also directed to efforts for the New York State police, as well as miscellaneous state expenses such as clothing purchases, lawn maintenance at state parks and pizza purchases.

“A number of counties brought this (resolution) back from the conference,” Allen said. He noted that the resolution was offered by NYSAC as a starting point.

“This is just a boiler plate to work on,” Allen said.

County Administrator Phil Church suggested that the resolution be modified to include wording that would more clearly state what the county is asking.

“It is not clear what’s being asked,” he said. “Ask for a resolved… (stating the request that the) $1.20 be given to counties.”

The resolution also asks for “further examination into a cost saving state and local partnership in an attempt to create a reliable, statewide, interoperable communications network that will ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.”

Legislator James Bryant, R-Constantia, asked Allen how much the wireless fee brings in to the state.

Allen said that the collection figure is guarded, but is well over $100 million a year.

“Three years ago, it was at $147 million,” he said.

Bryant said he was hesitant to ask for that money to be distributed to counties, unsure of where cuts would come through if the state had to make up that loss.

“I don’t think I want to go after that until we know the long term affects,” Bryant said.

Legislator Arthur Ospelt, R-Schroeppel, disagreed and said he’d rather ask for the money and fight other battles as they arise.

“I think we should get it,” Osphelt said.

“In years past, we sent a letter looking for an equitable distribution,” Allen said. “I don’t think they are spending the money wisely. That is one reason why we want to send this to our state representatives. They can look at the total funding picture.”

The committee directed Allen to work with Church to clarify the language and passed the resolution.