County joins city in plea for higher cell phone charge|[02/21/07]
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2007
By one vote, Warren County supervisors agreed Tuesday to join the City of Vicksburg in asking for legislative permission to impose higher fees on cell phone customers.
Local officials have said more money is needed to support 911 Dispatch Center staff and operations and they want the flexibility to increase the monthly cell phone fee from $1 to as much as $4.
The bill is pending in the Capitol as a local and private measure, which can be acted on at any time until the Legislative session ends in about five weeks.
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Supporting asking for the increase were District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, District 5 Supervisor Richard George and District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders.
Figures show about 60 percent of calls to the city-county emergency number are now placed from cell phones.
“People that use the system ought to be the people that pay,” said McDonald, who is also the board’s representative on the E-911 Commission.
George and McDonald have not attracted any ballot opposition for this fall’s elections. Flanders and two others are running in District 4. The deadline to file is in eight days.
Opposing the resolution were District 2 Supervisor William Banks and District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, both of whom face opposition in their re-election bids.
Although Democrats, Selmon and Banks aligned with the “no new taxes” position of Gov. Haley Barbour on the matter.
“We’re asking the general public to pay. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for government right now,” Selmon said.
Banks said the area’s delegation in Jackson was “completely against” it in the past, mainly because of its failure to garner enough votes in the past. That added to his reluctance to support asking them again.
In the past, supervisors and city officials have said an additional $1.50 to $2 is needed to pay for operating the center, now funded by $1 per line charges for cell and residential lines and a $2 charge per business lines.
If the current resolution is granted, local government could hike the fee up to $3 per cell phone from the current $1 per line. The state Public Service Commission would have to weigh in on whether different counties can impose different 911 rates.
The last time any of the charges was increased was 2001, when residential rates were raised from 80 cents and business lines were raised from $1.66.
Warren County voters agreed in 1989 to pay monthly surcharges on phone bills to fund a consolidated dispatch staff to use then-new technology that provided the names and addresses of those who dialed 911 seeking services.
The fees have never paid the total cost and general fund supplements now pay about a third of the center’s $1.2 million annual operating cost. Center staff, now in the courthouse basement, are expected to move into the former Southern Printing building at Clay and First North streets later this year.
Also Tuesday, a motion to strike provisions dealing with employee evaluations from the county’s current personnel policy failed to pass.
District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders’ motion died without a second.
Later, Flanders said he was relying on advice from the board’s consulting attorney, Ken Rector, who advised the county creates potential problems for itself if it has provisions in its policy manual it does not enforce.
Rector was paid more than $14,000 in 2006 to update the county handbook, but the board has opted against accepting the revisions, citing a lack of consensus on how drug testing and health benefits under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act should be handled.
Supervisors had directed board counsel to offer advice on the matter. Attorney Michael Winfield, subbing for his brother Paul Winfield, for the second time, told the board he recommended enacting the evaluations only if they were serious about using them.
In another legislative matter, Banks withdrew the idea of asking legislators to change language in the bill that created the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Discussion may continue on that topic in later informal meetings, supervisors indicated.
Two county-appointed seats remain vacant on the VCVB, one to originate with Banks and one with Flanders.
A state Ethics Commission decision cleared the way for Flanders to present bed and breakfast owner Harry Sharp as his choice, but he has not done so. Banks has vowed to leave his choice empty after he received stiff opposition to appointing former city appointee Bobbie Bingham Morrow.
The issue for Sharp was whether his private dealings with VCVB as a temporary landlord disqualified him. The issue with Morrow was whether supervisors have individual appointments to the tourism-development agency or whether a board majority is required. Regarding the latter, an attorney general’s opinion says supervisors nominate the county’s five appointees one-each, but a confirmation vote must be taken.