Council nixes 9-1-1 access fee decisionBy Christine Morente
Facing the threat of a lawsuit, San Bruno council members decided to table discussion on a 9-1-1 access fee until they know the outcomes of other pending legal actions against other cities.
"It may take months or years," said Mayor Larry Franzella.
The decision was made in a closed session meeting before the council meeting Tuesday night.
The move was what Tedi Vriheas of SBC California's external affairs office wanted. She said she will continue to work with the city on an administrative agreement.
The plan was to implement a $1.75 emergency fee that would be billed monthly on land lines, cell phones and wireless services. It would have covered the costs of the San Bruno Police Department's dispatch center, which receives about 900 emergency calls a month.
The city will continue to pay for the dispatch center's equipment, services and personnel costs through the gen eral fund, Franzella confirmed.
Instead, city officials will watch the outcome of pending lawsuits. SBC sued Stockton in July and is in proceedings at San Joaquin Superior Court, while Verizon has sued Union City.
The argument is that the fee is really a disguised tax.
"We basically just believe the (city's) use of funds is inappropriate and we're testing a law," SBC Spokesman John Britton said earlier. "We had to pick a city to test, bottom line. The way the law reads, funds should be used for communication systems, not to pay for salaries."
Under the state Constitution, voter approval is necessary for new taxes.
Still, cities are being more creative with bringing in new revenue. SBC is dealing with more than 85 such ordinances that have been enacted, are pending, or, like the one in San Carlos, on hold, Vriheas said.
"We take this issue very seriously because it would have a huge impact to our customers and to our business," she said.
The fear is, with the access fee placed on land lines, SBC customers would opt to use their cell phones, which don't have as many taxes and fees tacked on as land lines do, Vriheas said.
The lawsuit against Stockton will answer whether the fee is a tax.
"We are not going to be held accountable for the city's actions (if it's illegal) so we've got to litigate," she said. "This is not how we like to do things. It's just happening all over the place and we need to resolve it so we can all move on."
Copyright ©2004 San Mateo County Times. Published 10/27/2004.