Assembly raises 911 tax to offset cost of service

The Kenai Borough Assembly on Tuesday raised the 911 tax charged on area phone bills by 30 cents a month at the request of borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

The previous borough tax of $1.50 per month raises about $1.2 million in revenue each year, about half of the total expense, according to Craig Chapman, director of finance. 

The 30 cent increase adds an additional $242,000 toward the expected total revenue needed to balance the 2014 E911 department budget of $2 million. The remaining money comes from charges to other emergency service providers, such as the Nikiski Fire Department.  

Assemblyman Mako Haggerty (District 9) said that the money had to come from somewhere — whether from the general fund or the user, the money will be spent. 

“This is a way to cover the costs,” Haggerty said.

State law allows the borough to collect 100 percent of the expense to operate the 911 program. The higher charge takes effect immediately. 

Though previous budgets have not collected all of the 911 tax allowed, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said his proposed 2014 budget was predicated on the assembly passing Tuesday’s measure to increase the 911 tax. 

Even the 30 cent increase will not cover all the 911 expense, Navarre said.

In the 2014 borough budget, which was approved following the 911 tax hike, expenditures exceed expected revenues by about $500,000. If the assembly voted no on the 911 tax increase, a total of about $750,000 would have come from the borough’s general fund savings to reach a balanced budget, Navarre said. 

Any general fund money not spent on 911 services will stay put and help rebuild the overall general fund balance, he said.

Expenses for the enhanced 911 system are projected to continue to outstrip revenue into 2017, according to borough budget documents. 

In 2011 the borough contracted a Michigan company to provide computer-aided 911 call service for emergency, police and fire adding tens of thousands of dollars to the expense budget. 

According to borough documents, the 2012 call volume for enhanced 911 emergency calls was 21,831 and 43,596 for police and fire calls, including enhanced services for wireless 911 calls which now comprise about 56 percent of all emergency calls.

The 911 tax is collected each month by the phone companies and is listed in detail on each phone bill.

While most of the sought increase will go to cover former general fund contributions, which was $329,065 in the 2013 budget, there are some actual departmental expense increases for fiscal year 2014. 

A $93,000 increase over 2013 is mostly accounted for by adding a half-time position to the 911 workforce and a 39 percent increase in overtime projected for the year. Retirement accounts, insurance and vacation account for the remainder of the increase in expenses proposed in the 2014 budget. 

A public hearing on the matter is planned for 6 p.m. tonight during the assembly’s regularly scheduled meeting in their chambers in the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna.  

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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