TRAVERSE CITY -- An alleged error by the Michigan Public Service Commission will cut a 911 phone surcharge in Grand Traverse County by 28 percent and might reduce funding for the county's emergency dispatch center by $72,000.
Grand Traverse County planned to use a new state law to spread its current 80 cent per-month phone surcharge on land lines to cell phones and other electronic devices capable of calling 911. The new charge was estimated to raise approximately $743,000 a year to help cover the emergency dispatch center's annual $1.48 million operating budget and replace outdated equipment.
Instead, the Michigan Public Service Commission, using estimated numbers, cut the surcharge to 58 cents for all phone users in the county. That's projected to bring in less than the $555,000 the county collected on land lines in 2007.
State law required 911 centers to justify any funding increase over 2.7 percent to the Michigan State Police Emergency Telecommunications Service Committee as a reasonable and necessary expense, said emergency 911 central dispatch director Jamel Anderson.
Grand Traverse was one of 43 counties requesting surcharges ranging from 30 cents to $3 a month, and the committee eventually recommended the MPSC approve all 43.
"We have to justify everything we do with the money and we demonstrated the extra funding was reasonable and necessary," Anderson said. "We're using duct tape and grants to keep things together."
The telephone and cell phone industry lobbied hard against surcharges that increased funding by more than 2.7 percent and the MPSC complied, cutting surcharge requests across the board regardless of justification, Anderson said.
And the MPSC used a significantly lower preliminary estimate of 2007 revenue for Grand Traverse County, as opposed to actual revenue. Instead of an increase in surcharge funding, the MPSC estimates the 58 cents charge will raise about $489,000 in 2008, continuing a funding decline that began in 2001 when cell phones began replacing land lines.
The county is working to appeal the MPSC decision.
"The situation is unacceptable, and many of the (911 dispatch centers) are working together to determine a collective course of action," Anderson said.