New 30-cent cell phone surcharge may ring up $1M for county

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Cell phone users in Oneida County will likely see a new charge on their bills when 2018 rolls in. 

A local law has been submitted to the Board of Legislators to implement a 30-cent cell phone surcharge to help offset the declining revenues produced by the monthly levy on landline phones and increased costs associated with the emergency dispatch system.

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. hopes that by starting the enactment process now, the levy can take effect Jan. 1, when the county’s fiscal year starts.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, he says the tax might generate as much as $1 million a year to help pay for the 911 center’s operations.

The money can be used for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and administration of public safety communication networks, as well as to keep pace with technologies affecting the the delivery of public safety services.

Several actions have to occur before the wireless communication device surcharge can be enacted when the new year begins. The first step is consideration by Board of Legislators at next month’s meeting.

An as-yet unscheduled public hearing would be held after its adoption. It would then have to be filed with the state.

While the county does receive money from a monthly surcharge on landlines, it is one of only a handful of counties in New York that doesn’t impose a similar charge on cellular phones. Picente has previously sought the required state approvals, but never received them.

Now, thanks to recent state legislation, the county has been granted the authority to enact the 30-cent surcharge on each wireless communicate device that is on a service plan and on each prepaid wireless communication service transaction in the county.

As the number of landlines in service decreases, so does the revenue from the tax on them. On the other hand, the use of cell phones has grown tremendously in the last five years — a trend that the Picente has long wanted to tap into.

The 2017-18 state budget contained language that counties can apply surcharge going forward to all cell phones regardless of the type.

Until now, prepaid cell phone users, who buy phones with one-time minutes and data, have gotten a pass. However, now retailers will collect the surcharge on behalf of prepaid phone companies.

Cell phone users on a calling plan will pay through their monthly bill.

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