After years of uncertainty and litigation, the Charlevoix-Cheboygan-Emmet Central Dispatch 9-1-1 service has won the right to increase its surcharge on cell phones.
The group lawsuit, consisting of several Michigan counties seeking to charge telecommunications companies more money to help pay for emergency dispatch equipment, was settled by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on May 15.
“It goes back about five years when the regulation was close to sun-setting and it was time to update the public act that allowed counties to collect a surcharge on cell phones,” said CCE Central Dispatch Assistant Director Greg Clark. “The counties operating with a surcharge said it was a good time to redo the language because we needed to replace the technology.”
According to Clark, the telecommunications companies resisted the proposed changes to the surcharges and that is when it became a legal matter.
“The MPSC ruled the surcharges couldn’t be updated or increased and approximately 20 counties went together to create a legal action,” he said. “This went on for years as it went back and forth through the appellate system until just recently when the appeals court told the MPSC they had to settle.”
A partial settlement was reached for 12 of the counties in question, including: Alpena, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Gogebic, Hillsdale, Houghton, Ionia, Mackinac, Montcalm, Newaygo and Tuscola counties.
“On Feb. 14, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a decision vacating the Commission’s Dec. 21, 2010 order regarding 9-1-1 surcharge calculations for 23 appellant counties,” the MPSC stated in a May 15 news release. “The court ordered that any county requesting a contested case hearing would be granted one, and it allowed each county to select either a new contested hearing case or a re-determination by the MPSC based on reopened existing proofs and existing briefs.”
The new monthly 9-1-1 cell phone surcharge rates are as follows:
Alpena County: $2.46; Charlevoix County: 61 cents; Cheboygan County: 61 cents; Emmet County: 61 cents; Gogebic County: 60 cents; Hillsdale County: $1.70; Houghton County: $1.26; Ionia County: $1.90; Mackinac County: $1.48; Montcalm County: $2.00; Newaygo County: $1.95; and Tuscola County: $2.03.
The rates effected by the settlement can only be further increased by a vote of the people.
Charlevoix County’s rates were at .51 cents; Cheboygan was at .50 cents; and, Emmet County was levying .58 cents.
“We went with what we had originally asked the boards of commissioners for back five years ago,” Clark said. “This increase will offset some of the expenses of new equipment.”
The three counties will, in total, collect approximately $500,000 in additional funds annually thanks to the increased surcharge.
“We went for a nominal increase. We decided it was best to stay with that and honor our original request,” Clark said. “That money helps us pay for the technology and equipment upgrades for everything from computers and communications systems, microwave towers, radio towers—any capital equipment expenditures.”
Clark said the move in recent years to squeeze more radio frequencies into the same band has caused dispatch services across the state to upgrade equipment in order to keep up.
“Our hands have been tied a little bit in some areas,” he said.
“We are always trying to be fiscally responsible while our agency works to upgrade to next generation 9-1-1 systems that are more IP based.”
According to the MPSC, discussions on the 9-1-1 surcharge rates for the remaining 11 counties—Delta, Dickinson, Cass, Chippewa, Grand Traverse, Menominee, Saginaw, Ogemaw, Huron, Alcona and Van Buren, as well as St. Clair County—are still under way.