911 surcharge increase to help fund police remodel
Monthly Enhanced 911 (E911) surcharges will increase to $2 a month for Petersburg Borough cellphone users if the Borough Assembly approves the rate increase as an ordinance during the next assembly meeting.
The funds will help finance maintenance on the E911 Emergency Communications Fund, an anticipated cost of $500,000 during the next several years.
Every municipality across Alaska sets a similar charge, which helps install and maintain emergency communication systems.
In Petersburg, there is only $29,700 currently available in the fund due in part to an error in how AT&T collected its fees—an error Petersburg Police Chief Kelly Swihart has been trying to correct.
Alaska state law requires the surcharge to be collected based on billing address.
AT&T charges the fee based on what it calls a primary physical use area—it pings the towers where the phone signal hits and that is where it charges the fee.
“But their technical software didn’t match up with their subscription and their billing software, so there was a default,” Swihart said. “It was actually showing the primary physical use address as the retail location where the phone was purchased.”
So if you bought your AT&T phone in Juneau, you might be paying Juneau’s $2 fee, and it might be helping fund their E911 system instead of Petersburg’s.
AT&T began fixing the issue last July, and Swihart said smaller companies like GCI are already tracking pretty well.
The E911 surcharge increase is capped at $2, and Swihart said the extra dollar a month will help pay for the new communications system that will be installed once the municipal building remodel begins.
“The technology to run a dispatch center is incredibly expensive,” Swihart said. “It could be around half a million dollars. It would be nice if we can offset that in the next two years.”
At $2 a month, the borough could receive $100,000 annually if every cell phone line were accounted for.
Swihart said an increase wouldn’t impact individuals that much but adds up to some significant funding in the long run.
“That’s quite a bit of capital we can collect for that E911 system for the new dispatch center with relatively low impact,” Swihart said. “I think it’s a relatively small increase.”
According to Borough finance records, Petersburg has more than 4,500 phone lines registered to the 99833 zip code—around 2,900 of those are cellular lines.