Local authorities say cell phones have taken large chunk of tax revenue

GRADY COUNTY, Okla. – Officials in Grady County say cell phones have taken away a good chunk of the county’s 911 tax revenue.

Jim Weir says he is worried, and not just about the emergency calls that are coming in, but the ones dispatchers may not be able to take in the future.

Weir said, “What’s happened over time is we’ve lost the tax base of the land lines that were funding the majority of the 911 system, and we’re not getting enough for the cell phones.”

So Weir is having to dip into the county’s general fund to help keep the countywide 911 system afloat.

Grady County Clerk Sharon Shoemake said, “It’s a statewide problem that we’re all seeing,”

Along with the sheriff, Shoemake has been watching the tax funds for the call center dwindle and has been discussing the growing issue with other county clerks across the state.

“Several of those counties have set aside when it comes budget time money to help pay for it, and that’s the only way right now that I think we’ll be able to keep the manpower that he’s got,” she said.

Right now the county has six full-time dispatchers and two part time.

In addition to lease payments for the call center equipment, it takes more than $7,000 each month to pay the bills and another $25,000 to make payroll payments.

The county gets much more money from land lines than cell phones, and for the month of May, there was not enough money to make ends meet.

“This month we didn’t have enough to fund our payroll,” Weir said. “We were $2,000 short. So we went to the county commissioners, and they’re going to cover it this month.”

County officials only have control over taxing land lines.

To increase taxes for cell phone users, the issue has to go to state lawmakers.

Shoemake said, “They have no way of charging the cell phones anymore and that needs to change because that’s where all the calls are coming from.”

Shoemake says the current 911 budget is stretched thin.

“They’re using the funds correctly. They’re not overspending for things that we can see,” she said. “It’s just to survive.”

The worst case scenario is to furlough or layoff dispatchers, but the sheriff fears that could lead to something much worse if there are not enough dispatchers to answer calls.

Weir said, “Somebody’s going to end up dead.”

For the month of May there were more than 1,900 911 calls to the Grady County 911 call center.

Of those calls, only 114 were from land lines. The remaining calls came from cell phones.

Shoemake also says the commissioners are asking the district attorney to investigate and call an election in November to increase the tax rate for land lines from 10 percent to 15 percent.