Norris: 911 Surcharge Legislation Introduced In State Assembly

A Release from Assemblyman Michael J. Norris

Assemblyman Michael J. Norris joined Assemblyman Peter Lawrence, Ranking Minority Member on the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions as well as fellow Niagara County Assemblyman Angelo Morinello in introducing legislation (A.10603) that would force New York State to reinvest in local emergency management operations across the state.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Reilly wrote a joint op-ed that was highly critical of the state's use of 911 fees, and also visited the Niagara County Emergency Management Office to address the issue.

It has been reported that New York State collects over $180 million annually through its monthly surcharge of $1.20 on cell phone bills – dollars that are intended to be reinvested back into local emergency management services. There is just one problem; the state diverts nearly 42 percent of the revenue to its general fund. Only $10 million of the $185 million New York State collected from the fees last year went to 911 call centers.

Assemblyman Norris, who attended the meeting at the Niagara County Emergency Management Office, heard these concerns and took immediate action to address this issue. Norris sought out the New York State Assembly Ranking Minority Member on the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, Peter Lawrence, and worked to co-sponsor legislation that would remove the ability of the state to decide how wireless surcharge funds are allocated and would ensure local governments receive the funds necessary to upgrade 911 call centers.

“Due to the diversion of these funds, local governments are forced to raise property and/or sales taxes or fees to cover for Albany's misdirecting of public safety communications surcharge funds,” said Norris. “Not only are counties underfunded in new technologies, but local taxpayers are forced to foot the bill…twice! First, taxpayers pay the surcharge itself, then again when local taxes are increased for emergency management services. This legislation forces the state to invest these funds into local and state emergency management services and prevents the sweeping of these funds into the state general fund.”

“New York State’s diversion of these funds puts us a risk of losing Federal Funding,” said Assemblyman Peter Lawrence. “Local emergency communication services across the state are in desperate need of upgrading and the proper use of surcharge funds would give county governments the ability to make those upgrades and improve public safety.”

Assemblyman Morinello said, “This is a public safety issue that is inadequately being funded by the state from the surcharge paid by citizens for the specific purpose of maintaining and improving the 911 system. It is clear that legislative action is necessary to ensure that responsibility and hold the state accountable for the allocation of the 911 surcharge fund.”