9-1-1 surcharges produced 25 percent less than forecast

By Bob Mercer

State Capitol Bureau

Special surcharges that telephone users pay in South Dakota to help support 9-1-1 emergency reporting services didn’t generate in the last year the money that was forecast.

The monthly $1.25 per phone line and the new 2 percent surcharge on pre-paid wireless minutes purchased at retail outlets together produced about $2.9 million, rather than the expected $4.1 million.

Some of the administrative one-time costs weren’t included in the calculations. Another reason seems to be the end of the recession, according to Ted Rufledt Jr. of Rapid City. He is chairman of the State 9-1-1 Coordination Board and prepared the forecasts.

People seemed to purchase more pre-paid wireless minutes when times were tougher, Rufledt said Tuesday in testimony to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

He told lawmakers he expects the wireless surcharge revenue to be flat or drop farther as the economy improves. Wireless accounted for approximately $300,000 of the $1.2 million miss.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, asked Rufledt if there had any been any difficulties in collecting from retailers. Brown was prime sponsor of the 2012 legislation that added the wireless surcharge and raised the line surcharge from 75 cents to $1.25.

“I’m not aware of any specific problems with that,” Rufledt replied.

Shawnie Rechtenbaugh is state 911 coordinator for the South Dakota Department of Public Safety. She said the six-year estimate of revenue has been updated at $20 million from the original $24 million.

Much of the revenue from the wireless surcharge and the additional 50 cents per line will be used for the Next Gen 911 project. It will provide for pinpoint mapping of emergency calls and create a single backbone connecting all public-safety answering points known as PSAPs.

In response to a reporter’s question, Rechtenbaugh said it’s too early to know whether an adjustment of the surcharges would be necessary in light of the revenue under-performance. The $1.25 is scheduled to change to $1 per line on July 1, 2018.

“If and when the time comes to address that issue, it would be at the discretion of the Legislature or the governor,” she said.

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