OSWEGO, NY – A motion to request that New York State County Law 308 be amended to authorize a wireless surcharge within the county of Oswego generated a lot of debate before finally being approved mostly along part lines at Tuesday’s Oswego County Legislature meeting.
Funds from the $0.30 per month fee would greatly help the E-911 Center continue to improve its services to county residents and would treat persons with only a cell number as equitably as those with only a land line, the resolution said.
All but eight counties in the state already have a wireless surcharge in place and the county cannot implement one without first getting authorization from the state.
People are trying to save money, Legislator Frank Castiglia said, explaining why many are switching to cell phones only.
“And we’re just going to hit them with another fee, which is another tax?” he said. “People can’t afford it. There are people out there that are trying to save money and we’re not helping them.”
Legislator Daniel LeClair felt it was fair in that the cost would be shared by everyone in the county.
Legislator Roy Reehil pointed out the law this is based on was created years ago to help fund the Enhanced 911 system in the county. The fee was $0.35 for land lines.
But, technology has changed and the number of people with land lines had dropped greatly, he pointed out.
“Is there anyone here who doesn’t have a cell phone?” he asked rhetorically. Legislator Jack Proud was the only person to raise his hand.
More than half the 911 calls are made with cell phones and what the fee would do would be to allow the county to do what the intent of the law was – charge every telephone supplier, he added.
“There are other ways to increase revenues,” Legislator Jake Mulcahey said. “The way to improve Oswego County is to keep bureaucracy to a minimum, keep taxes, fines and fees as low as possible and to attract outside business. There are a number of ways that we can do that.”
Legislator Richard Kline said he has advocated for this resolution since he became a legislator.
“It’s a key component, the 911 Center is, to our health and safety of our county,” he said. “If we don’t support the 30 cent per month from cell phones, that money is going to have to come from somewhere else and it’s going to be the landowners. I’m sorry, but $3.60 per year is peanuts to help finance our 911 Center.”
In response to Mulcahey’s comments, Legislator Stephen Walpole said, he would like to know what other means of revenue were.
“I’m looking forward to working with everybody. I’d just like to hear some ideas so we don’t continue to go through this same process,” he said.
“Let’s start a live Oswego campaign. Let’s bring all the big businesses to the table. Bring them all together and see what we can do to provide incentive for these folks … to bring them here, to Oswego County,” Mulcahey replied. “I’d be more than happy to chair that committee.”
The county isn’t introducing a surcharge, Legislator Dan Farfaglia pointed out. The resolution only asks the state to consider allowing the county the opportunity.
“So, if Albany moves this along, we’re going to have to go through this debate all over again,” he said.
The funds are needed to help maintain the 911 system, Legislator James Karasek noted.
“I do think it’s fair to ask everyone who lives in this county to pick up a piece of that. It is a very, very small piece,” he said.
Legislator Shawn Doyle said he thinks it’s a fair tax, “it’s a user fee.”
Technology is rapidly changing and the county needs to be able to keep up with those changes Reehil said, adding that it is this is a huge safety issue for the county.
“Instead of adding cost to your product, you decrease expenses of that product in order to make more revenue,” Castiglia said.
Sometimes it is necessary to go back and look at the county’s mission statement, Proud said.
“One of the highest priorities in that mission statement is to provide services to the populace of Oswego County,” he said. “In order to provide services, you have to have funding streams that are constant, steady and are predictable. Otherwise, you have a very difficult time providing those services.”
Over the years, unfunded mandates coming down from the state have diminished the funds the county has available, he added.
“We’re at a point now where when you talk about local services or non-mandated services, we’re talking about the very quality of life things that make Oswego County great. If we do not maintain our funding streams, we will be squeezed tighter and forced to cut even further of the things that we in Oswego County feel are more important.”
If the county doesn’t replace losses in funding streams that provide for services to county residents, the cost is going to go to the property owners, he warned.
“You can’t run a government and provide services without maintaining or enhancing your funding streams,” he said. “And, as long as it has not become exorbitant and all you’re doing is replacing lost revenues with new-found revenues, that’s legitimate. But, the taxpayers expect those services from us; we are obligated to try to continue to provide them if we can. We can’t do it without funding and when we keep turning our backs on funding, we’re dooming ourselves to having to cut those things at a later date.”
The resolution was approved along party lines.