Report: Cell Phone Money Not Going To 9-1-1

Report: Cell Phone Money Not Going To 9-1-1

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Millions of dollars which should be going for emergency communications in New York state - like 9-1-1 - are instead being diverted to other uses, the New York Post reports.

The newspaper cites a new report from the Federal Communications Commission, which found that of the $189 million the state collects annually in cellphone fees - one of those annoying charges that gets tacked onto your cellphone bill each month - 42 percent goes into the state's "general fund."

All of the money is supposed to be spent on emergency communications, under federal rules.

“This harmful behavior short-changes call centers and prevents necessary upgrades, thereby threatening the public’s safety at their most vulnerable time, or it deceives consumers by stealing their money for other spending purposes,” Michael O’Rielly of the Federal Communications Commission wrote in the  report.

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo disputed the federal report, according to the newspaper.

“New York’s cellular surcharge is used to upgrade public-safety communication systems and support emergency services operations statewide, including through the provision of interoperable communications grants,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said state law requires much of the cellphone fees collected to be placed in the general fund.

If - as the federal report suggests - not all the money is going to emergency communications, taxpayers could be losing. Jefferson County, for instance, got a little over $4 million from New York state at the end of 2018, but that was only part of a $22 million upgrade of the county's emergency radio system.

In Jefferson County, you pay a $1.20 "public safety surcharge" and then another 30 cent local surcharge as well.

According to Scott Gray, the chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, these surcharges - meant for 911 services - really aren't used that way. 

"We have known it for a long time now. We have advocated otherwise. We have advocated that it be set up as a dedicated fund for the emergency communications in 911 centers," Gray told 7 News Monday.

"We have always said from the beginning, you collect that money for emergency services it should be rightfully returned. There's about $100 million that's unaccounted for."

The apparent disparity in what is collected, and what is returned to the counties, frustrates county officials. Joe Plummer, head of the county's Fire & Emergency Management, said the state allocated about $200,000 to Jefferson County for 9-1-1 services this year. That's less than the $223,000 budget Plummer has just for maintenance of the system, and doesn't begin to touch the $2.4 million spent on salaries and supplies.

 "It's makes me very, very angry that happens, you know, that the public is being deceived to think that they are getting 911 services" with the money they pay on their cell phone bills, Plummer said.

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