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Bills would rise to help county keep pace with upgrades
Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese, left, Treasurer Scott Harnsberger, center, and dispatch center supervisor Carl Freeman on Tuesday discussed raising a small surcharge on telephone lines to pay for 911 communications equipment. Photo by Eric Blom

Phone bills would rise to help county keep pace with 911 service upgrades

Jun 26, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County residents could see a $3 per year increase to their telephone bills in the next year in the form of a higher 911 surcharge.

Officials say additional revenues are needed to keep the Fremont County Sheriff's Office dispatch center up to date.

The existing charge on all land lines and mobile phones in the county is 50 cents a month, or $6 per year. On Tuesday, Fremont County Commissioners decided to include a raise to 75 cents a month, or $9 per year, in their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

"Three dollars a year, nobody's going to notice it, but we're asking you to pay $3 more, and if you're like me you want to know why," Sheriff Skip Hornecker said.

The answer, the sheriff said, is that the 50-cent surcharge is not enough to cover necessary upgrades in the next five years. Even at 75 cents, the revenue might not be enough, he said.

The 75-cent rate still needs final approval. The county board plans to hold a public meeting on the budget and the surcharge increase on July 7 and to finalize both items at its July 8 meeting.

Upgrades, replacements and new equipment are forecast to cost $400,000 next year and about $300,000 in several other years in the next half a decade, according to the sheriff's office's five-year plan. A bigger hit, however, is expected in two years.

In fiscal year 2016, the agency predicts it will have to make an $800,000 upgrade to its dispatch consoles to maintain connectivity with the statewide Wyolink radio system. The current consoles are mostly 13-15 years old, Hornecker said. Wyolink is upgrading its equipment, and Fremont County must follow suit so it can continue to operate with the statewide system.

The Fremont County Treasurer's Office projects revenue at the 50-cent rate would be about $300,000 per year. At 75 cents, the revenue would be just shy of $450,000.

The Sheriff's Office, based on lower revenue projects, expects income under the 50-cent rate and the 75-cent rate to fall short of the expenditures on 911 equipment within two years, and the fund supporting the dispatch center would continue to be in the red for the foreseeable future.

To make up the shortfall, Hornecker's office is exploring using a loan from the county's cash reserve, grant funding, and the possibility of sharing the cost with the state, Hornecker said.

Wyoming law states the 911 surcharge must be between 25 cents and 75 cents, but leaves the exact amount up to local authorities. Fremont County is one of only three 911 districts that do not have the 75-cent maximum surcharge, Hornecker said. A 75-cent surcharge would be comparable to neighboring states, though not necessarily lower.

Colorado also has a range of monthly rates for a phone line, from 43 cents up to $1.50, and so does Nebraska, 50 cents to $1, according to the National Emergency Number Association.

Idaho simply has a $1 maximum. Montana has a $1 flat fee, Utah's fee is 69 cents, and rate is $1.24 in South Dakota.

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Fremont County Commission