Clay County voters will decide on Nov. 7 whether to implement a $1 monthly fee on any wireless device capable of calling 911 to fund the regional 911 system.
Since 1993, the funding mechanism for 911 has been a tax on landline phones. As the number of landlines in Clay County dwindles, the County is having to pull funds from other places to cover the costs.
This year, the County will pay more than $1.1 million for its portion of the metro area’s regional emergency communications system, which is managed by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). The fees from landlines will cover only about $218,000. The County receives an additional $40,000 from state assistance, but that still leaves a deficit of about $850,000. County leaders expect that deficit to grow annually.
The County Commission has approved a ballot question for Nov. 7 that will ask voters to approve a $1 monthly fee on any wireless device capable of calling 911. The fee would appear on your monthly phone bill. That fee will cover the existing costs of the 911 system and allow the implementation of next-generation 911 features.
Some of these new features will include improved software to better locate 911 callers, the ability for dispatch centers to accept videos and photos, enhanced cyber security and more.
In 2022, 80% of all 911 calls made in Clay County came from wireless devices. Another 9% came through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol – phone calls made using broadband internet). There is currently no fee or tax on either of those types of devices to fund 911, despite them being the source of the vast majority of 911 calls. If the proposed wireless fee passes, the surcharge on landlines will be eliminated.
The Kansas City region’s 911 service covers 11 counties, and each county’s costs are based on their percentage of the region’s population. Clay County’s population comprises 11.4%, and it’s growing. Since the 1993 law authorizing landline fees to fund 911, Clay County’s population has grown by 65%, which is more than 100,000 people. The number of landlines in the county has remained about the same since 2006.
Any surplus revenue generated by the fee will go to maintain and upgrade dispatch centers throughout Clay County.
Shall Clay County impose a monthly fee of one dollar ($1.00) on a subscriber of any communications service that has been enabled to contact 911 for the purpose of funding 911 service in Clay County? If passed, the current 911 fee assessed on landline telephones will be removed. These funds shall be used solely for the use of the County's emergency 911 system and shall be audited annually.
Q: Do the proceeds of this fee just benefit the Clay County Sheriff's Office?
A: No, this covers 911 services for every law enforcement agency and fire department in Clay County.
Q: If the fee raises more money than the actual cost of 911 service, where does the rest of it go?
Additional revenues generated above the cost of 911 service will go to maintain and upgrade dispatch centers throughout the County. A portion of it also will be put into savings because even if the fee passes, it is estimated the cost for 911 service will exceed the funds generated by the year 2034.
Q: Will this fee apply to VoIP phones?
A: Yes. As the ballot language states, the fee will be assessed on "any communications service that has been enabled to contact 911."
Q: My wireless plan has lines that are used outside of Clay County. Will those incur the fee, too?
A: The fee would be assessed on any device that is billed at a Clay County address.
Q: Can anything that uses cellular service be assessed a fee? Like Alexa or OnStar?
A: Only devices with active, assigned phone numbers would incur the fee.
Q: What about prepaid wireless?
A: Since 2019, Missouri residents using prepaid wireless have paid a 3% surcharge for 911. This will remain the same, and no additional charges will be added if this proposal passes.
Q: Will this affect 911 hold times?
A: This fee is for the 911 service of all of Clay County. Only Kansas City, Mo., callers are experiencing 911 hold times due to staffing issues at the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. This fee is not intended to address KCPD personnel issues.
Q: How can I be sure the money is being used correctly?
A: The ballot language states: "These funds shall be used solely for the use of the County's emergency 911 system and shall be audited annually."
Q: How do I know the Mid-America Regional Council will use the money for its intended purpose?
MARC has an annual audit by RubinBrown LLP and the audits are available here: https://www.marc.org/about-marc/financial-information. Additionally, the Public Safety Communications Board governs the spending of all 911 funds collected in the region (Kansas and Missouri counties that participate in MARC 911) and used for 911 purposes. Clay County has two representatives on the Public Safety Communications Board.
Q: I already pay a lot of taxes and fees on my cell phone bill. What is all that money going to?
This article gives a pretty good explanation of those other taxes and fees.
Q: How did you decide on a $1 fee?
This is outlined in Missouri Statute as the cap on the subscriber fee. Every county (10 total, including neighboring Jackson County, Clinton County, and Lafayette County) that’s implemented the subscriber fee has done $1. Costs for service are going up every year, so the County needs a more sustainable revenue source.
Q: Why can't property taxes be used to pay for 911 services?
The County doesn’t have a property tax levy for 911. The County’s portion of property tax revenues is also relatively low at less $0.0947 per $100 assessed valuation. The County collects all property taxes on behalf of other taxing jurisdictions and local governments.
Paid for by the Clay County Sheriff's Office | 12 S. Water St., Liberty MO 64068
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