A recent 383 percent increase on the 911 surcharge included in landline phone bills in Mobile County is only temporary, according to Mobile County Communications District Director Gary Tanner.
The $4.75 fee will be imposed through Sept. 31 and was necessary to establish a “base distribution amount” for reimbursement when the newly created state 911 Board takes over fee collections and disbursements. On Oct. 1, Tanner said, the fee should fall to $1.80 per month or less.
Before Jan. 1, landline phones in Mobile County were charged $1.24 per month 911 surcharge while cell phones were only charged 70 cents. Tanner said the state has been pushing legislation since 2010 to takeover 911 collections and distributions, to ensure less efficient counties and districts have access to equal funding. Tanner said a Mobile delegation fought the changes through their adoption last year.
“We have a great operation and everything was fine,” Tanner said. “As I understand it, the smaller [Emergency Communications Districts] had some issues with the lack of consolidation. Some counties have two or three 911 centers and there are some big players to subsidize. Jefferson County has 17 different operations centers.”
The Mobile County 911 Center, on the other hand, handles dispatching for all police, fire and EMS calls for the entire county and its municipalities, about 415,000 people at any given moment plus as many as 150,000 who may be “passing through” an area of 1,200 square miles. Tanner said the state was going to establish future disbursements based on the rate centers were charging in the nine months prior to the takeover, hence the recent increase.
“It amounts to about 10 cents a day for nine months, but that number will be reimbursed each year for the next five years when receive the funds from the state,” Tanner said.
The state’s future rate structure will be flat for both landline and cell phones, which should lower the monthly charge back to less than two dollars, Tanner said, but it will not be finalized at least until the state Oversight Committee’s next meeting April 4.