Durango City Councilor Paul Broderick opposed a 60-cent increase in the monthly phone 911 surcharge for lack of information Monday, but lost a 4-1 vote in support of a resolution to raise the surcharge to $1.30 a month.
Broderick emphasized that he supports 911 as a life-saving service, but said Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen’s presentation did “not come close to selling me on what we’re doing here and why we need the money.” Broderick said. “I’m trying to get my hands around it.”
The current 70-cent surcharge, which applies to all land lines, cellphones and Internet voice over systems, has been in effect since 2001.
Spratlen said 911 is becoming more expensive because of new technology. “Believe it or not, you’ll be able to text to 911,” Spratlen said. “We’re seeing an increase in software and more infrastructure we’re having to build.”
The 911 system is also losing revenue as more consumers drop landline phones in favor of cellphones.
The funding from the different kinds of phones is difficult to audit. “We’re not sure we’re getting the full amount,” Spratlen said.
Spratlen also stressed the need for 911. “I don’t think you can put a cost on 911, it just needs to be there,” Spratlen said. “A cup of coffee costs $3 a day, and we’re asking for 60 cents more a month,” he said.
If ultimately approved by the Public Utilities Commission, the revenue is expected to increase from $415,648.80 to $771,919.20 annually.
By intergovernmental agreement, all five member organizations of the Emergency Telephone Services Association of La Plata County – Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio, La Plata County and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe – must agree to the increase before it can go onto the PUC for final approval.
The county commissioners approved a resolution in support of the rate change in October. The other three member organizations will take up the issue later this month so the PUC can get a rate change request in December.
PUC could take up to 90 days to make a decision so it might not be until March before the new rate goes into effect.
In response to Broderick’s questions about how the revenue offsets the city’s communication costs, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said Durango has gotten money from the 911 surcharge for “system upgrades, but not everything we want.”
The city, for example, is budgeting for a new security fence for its communication center next year.