The city council will consider giving the city of Keizer the authority to assess fees on wireless providers to offset costs of 9-1-1 and public safety communications.

The council is not expected to actually impose fees at Monday’s session.  The ordinance would only allow the city to impose fees on gross revenues of telecommunication companies that provide wireless phone service in the city.

Currently the city is subsidizing its share of 9-1-1 costs from the general operating budget to the tune of more than $600,000 annually. That is money that can be used to bring the Keizer Police Department to full personnel strength and other general fund items such as parks.

Franchise fees that phone companies pay to the city help pay for Keizer’s share of the 9-1-1 costs.  More people are opting out of land lines for cell phones; cellphone and wireless providers do  not pay a franchise fee to the city.  The result is that dwindling franchise fees are paying for increasing public safety communications which includes the 9-1-1 emergency service, communications systems, and a records management system.

The current communications franchise fee is not sufficient to fund the city’s share and is not sustainable with decreasing land line usage.

Public safety is the top priority for any government and the 9-1-1 system is a key part of saving lives and responding to crimes.  The system is part of our daily lives and the citizens depend on it.   The city and the city council are correct in addressing this issue and considering the fee for providers.

The telecommunications companies will undoubtedly oppose the imposition of any extra fees on them.  The chances are good that any new fees will be passed along to their customers. That’s where things will get sticky with the public.  If a new fee is actually imposed in the future and the providers pass it on to users there will be a cry about increased taxes.  Franchise and other fees are not taxes—they are fees charged for the privilege of operating in the city.

In our view you can’t put a price on public safety.  The alternative to a wireless fee to help offset 9-1-1 costs is to do nothing and continue to fund Keizer’s share out of the general fund.  Local citizens want to see a fully staffed police department but that is going to be increasingly hard to do without fairly charging for a system that everyone has the right to use but only land line users bear the brunt of.

Providers of wireless communications need to help pay for the system.  If there was a way to have everything the citizens want without imposing a fee the city would be doing it.

On Monday the city council will only consider giving the city authorization to set a fee.  If every type of phone can dial 9-1-1 then every type of phone should help pay for it.

—LAZ