I heard mention a few
weeks ago of an audit, done by New York States Comptroller,
that found that millions of dollars collected from cell phone
customers by New York, and disbursed to the Division of State
Police, had been misused. The money, I heard, was supposed to
be used to improve our the emergency response system connected
with all 911 calls but that this was not how it was being
Turns out, it is true.
Not only does an audit report exist, but the conclusion
that of some $162 million collected over all, not much has been
spent on upgrading cellular 911 service is there in reasonably
In 1989, the State Legislature
passed Article 6 of the County Law Enhanced Emergency
Telephone System Surcharge Law (Law), which imposed a monthly
fee on land telephone users to help pay for enhanced emergency
communications systems. ... In 1991, the Law was amended to add
Section 309 to the County Law for the purpose of establishing
a surcharge on all cellular telephones in the State. ... Pursuant
to Section 309, cellular service suppliers collect a 70-cent
per month fee from all cellular phones and remit the revenue
less an administrative fee, to the Division of State Police (Division)
on a quarterly basis. ... The Division collected surcharge revenues
of $43 million in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001; since
1991, surcharge collections totaled more than $162 million.
While the Division collects 100 percent of all cellular surcharges,
it services only about one-third of the States population.
As of August 30, 2000, of the States 18.9 million residents,
the State Police dispatch centers serviced approximately one-third
of the population.
While the Division properly
records and deposits surcharge revenues received, it does not
know the number of providers who should remit revenues, or attempt
to verify the accuracy of the amounts that are received. Further,
our tests showed the Division spent surcharge revenues on
a wide variety of goods that do not appear to relate to cellular
911. In addition, since there is no enhanced cellular 911
service operational anywhere in New York State, we believe the
Division needs to plan for and operate an enhanced 911 system.
We found the Division
used funds from the Seized Assets Account to lease and purchase
vehicles and equipment, and to pay for all kinds of miscellaneous
expenses, most of which cannot be easily construed as costs
related to the establishment and maintenance of cellular 911.
Examples of these transactions include:
- dry cleaning bills;
- transportation and lodging
expenses for a promotional exam; and then what happens if it
runs to the next line?
- a missing person search;
- flight safety training;
- helicopter maintenance
training and a helicopter international exposition; and
- soft body armor purchases.
That language is certainly
clear enough. But despite the evident cost to consumers, and
the overall sums at stake, this issue does not seem to have attracted
a lot of public notice or attention, except for a few instances
mentioned the weakness of the 911 system in the wake of various
accidents to which the police might have responded more effectively
had there been a better, more effective, more efficient
system. Even if the cost-per-user fees being collected are unlikely
to break any cell phone users bank, thats no excuse
for poor management of these funds by the state, which is supposed
to be acting in our interest by creating a better emergency response
system in the first place.
Division of State Police, Cellular Surcharge Revenues,
2001-S-27, audit by New York State Office of the State
Comptroller, Page 4; available on the web at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/A01s027.pdf.
All emphasis has been added by me.
 Ibid., Page 5.
 Ibid., Page 20.
Copyright 2003, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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