911 fee increase

If there is one government function that can be considered an unmitigated good it is 911 service. Dialing those three numbers – something ingrained in Americans from toddlerhood – routinely saves lives, expedites access to critical care or emergency attention, and, generally stops bad things from happening. Those functions, and the guarantee that they will be provided, are of immeasurable value both to individuals and to society at large. It is not too much to ask, then, for phone subscribers to pay $1.30 a month to fund 911.

The Durango area’s 911 service is currently funded by a 70 cent surcharge on all land, cell and voice-over Internet phone customers. Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen is seeking a 60 cent increase on that charge so that the service can keep pace with evolving technology. That is hardly a bank-breaker for phone subscribers, particularly given the critical nature of the service the fee funds. It should be approved.

Spratlen must gain the support of the five entities that make up the Emergency Telephone Services of La Plata County, namely the city of Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and La Plata County. The county has passed a resolution in support of the plan, as has the city of Durango – on a 4-1 vote on Monday. Bayfield, Ignacio and the tribe should follow suit; doing so would send the proposal to the Public Utilities Commission for final approval.

Monday’s vote by the city came with dissent from Councilor Paul Broderick, who complained that Spratlen failed to convince him of the need for the fee increase. It is difficult to understand opposition to such a meager increase for so critical a service. Spratlen mentioned the technological advances that 911 service has seen, and he said that the local service is somewhat behind in investing in some of those upgrades. For 60 additional cents each month, there would be some budgetary breathing room that would allow for software and other infrastructure upgrades. The service should have those.

In total, Emergency Telephone Services of La Plata County currently receives $415,649 each year from phone-user fees. The increase would bump that revenue up to $771,919. That is a big boost for 911, at a small cost to those who use it. Taken together, it is a bargain.

Staying current with changing technology can only improve 911 service. Doing so can only improve outcomes for those who use the service. Given the circumstances during which people call 911, it is difficult to imagine how improving the service can be a bad thing. And for 60 cents each month, it is difficult to craft an argument against the proposal.

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