Following the tragic events of 9/11 2001, New York State started collecting a surcharge on all cell phones and mobile devices. These funds were to be used to improve and enhance emergency communications across the state.
New York State imposes a $1.20 per month surcharge on all cell phone bills. This was initiated following the attacks of 9/11 and was aimed at addressing the serious communications failures and shortcomings that horrific event exposed in the communications systems used by first responders.
The people of New York State were told that this surcharge would be dedicated to rebuilding emergency communications systems throughout the state.
New York State has not been fair in sharing these funds. Last year over $192 million was collected statewide from this surcharge, of which only $9.3 million was shared with local governments. This year it is expected that the surcharge will generate over $210 million.
A bill has been introduced into the NY State Senate, S.1720A by Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) that would dramatically increase the sharing from this fund to first responder and emergency services to an annual amount of 58.3%. If these bills were to become law, this would represent a significant source of funds for the county to begin rebuilding and upgrading its communications systems.
These systems include new radio repeaters and communications towers, a microwave communications ring and fiber optic network linking St. Lawrence County with its contiguous counties, new radios for fire, ambulance departments and hospitals, back-up satellite communications, a County Emergency Operations Center, an upgraded 911 center and a complete radio trunking system linking us with sixteen other NY counties.
This will provide St. Lawrence County, its municipalities and first responder departments with secure, reliable and redundant emergency communications for both routine operations and to ensure efficient county-wide command and control in the event of a major catastrophe.
These improvements will require a significant investment and is very expensive. Rural St. Lawrence County couldn't afford to do this on its own without raising taxes, a very unpopular move especially in light of the property tax increase that was initiated this year.
The 911 surcharge are funds collected from all state residents who own cell phones and other mobile devices. A more equitable sharing of these funds would be a return of those funds to the county's citizens from which they are collected.
The Director of Emergency Services has asked all NY State citizens who want to see the passage of this bill to contact your repsective NY Senate and Assembly representatives, Governor and Lieutenant Governor to urge them to support bill S.1720A.
The next disaster, like Hurricane Sandy, is not the time to discover that our emergency communications are inadequate and not up to the job.