County lawmakers poised to pass new wireless phone surcharge

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A new Oneida County tax on wireless phone services will likely be approved by the Board of Legislators on Wednesday at its monthly meeting.

If passed, it will add 30 cents to the monthly bills for service plans with wireless carriers. In addition, sellers of prepaid wireless phone cards and services will be required to collect a surcharge from their customers for the first time.

None of the 23 lawmakers has come out publicly against the proposal local law that would take effect Dec. 1.

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. says the tax might bring in as much as $1 million to help pay for the 911 emergency communications system.

The proposed surcharge on wireless services amounts to an extension of the tax currently received by the county for landline services.

The county had for years wanted to impose a cell phone tax, but the necessary state approvals never came to pass. However, the 2017-18 budget adopted in April contained language that addressed the issue so counties without a surcharge on wireless service plans could enact one.

It also allowed for a tax on prepaid devices.

Money raised by the surcharge can only used for “payment of service costs, eligible wireless 911 service costs, or other costs associated with the administration, design, installation, construction, operation, or maintenance of public safety communications networks or a system to provide enhanced wireless 911 service...,” states the proposed local law.

It follows the model issued by the state taxation and finance commissioner.

Picente initially had hoped to have the law in place by Jan. 1. However, the state’s model sets Dec. 1 as the effective date.

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